2020–2021 New Caledonian protests

The 2020 protests in New Caledonia began on 28 October 2020 over a plan to sell a Vale-owned nickel and cobalt mine to a consortium led by Trafigura. The nickel mine and plant is known as the Goro mine. Independence leaders and pro-independence protesters wanted for the nickel plant to be owned by citizens of New Caledonia rather than foreign investors, though various arrangements have been proposed.

2020 protests in New Caledonia
Camp minier goro nouvelle caledonie.jpg
Mining camp at the "Goro mine", where nickel is extracted
Date28 October 2020 - ongoing
Caused by
  • Sale of nickel mine to a domestic company rather than foreign
  • Independence
Parties to the civil conflict
InjuriesSeveral police officers
ArrestedDozens of protesters

The controversy over the nickel mining industry, a key part of New Caledonia's economy, rekindled interest in independence about a month after the French territory voted narrowly in a referendum to remain a territory of France.[1] Protests, riots, counter-protests and general civil unrest occurred in New Caledonia as a result of the planned sale of the Goro mine. Tension ran high in the territory, and lead to a collapse of its coalition government after resignations from pro-independence politicians.


New Caledonia holds as much as a quarter of the world's known nickel reserves. The Vale-owned Goro mine has been wracked with difficulties over the years. Riots occurred in 2014 after about 100,000 litres of acid-tainted effluent spilled from the site into a local river. This concerned youth groups and environmentalists, and also resulted in protests at the plant.[2] Similar mining effluent spills have damaged the New Caledonian barrier reef. Vale has lost billions on maintaining operations at the Goro mine, and it was a financial drain on the company for years.[3][4][5]

In November 2016, the French government afforded a state loan to Vale which consisted of 200 million euros.[6] The nickel sector employs about 1 in 5 people in New Caledonia.[7][8]

According to the Asia Times, "The territory’s 290,000 population is closely divided between the Kanaks, who are Melanesian, and settlers who began arriving in the mid-19th century when France set up a penal colony."[9] Conservative loyalist Sonia Backès has claimed that the Kanak independence movement is risking a civil war.[10][11]

Two referendums regarding the question of independence were held, followed by a third, as per the Nouméa Accord.[12]

Sale of Goro mineEdit

Vale, a Brazilian corporation, owned the Goro nickel mine and plant for years. It was planned that the Goro mine would be sold to Trafigura, a Swiss-based commodity trader.[8] Following unrest and public backlash from people in New Caledonia, the deal was challenged.

Vale postponed the sale of the mining operations, at the request of the territory's authorities.[13] The company stated that if the sale fails, it will shut down the plant. The Fiji Times said this could result in job loss for thousands of workers.[3] The French newspaper Le Monde claimed that some 3,000 jobs are at stake.[14]

Reaction and unrestEdit

A group known as the Indigenous Customary Negotiating Body (Instance Coutumière Autochtone de Négociation), or ICAN opposed the deal to sell the mine to a foreign company, and along with independence leaders, wanted the mine sold to the domestic company Sofinor instead, backed by Korea Zinc. This has also been backed by the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front.[7][15][14] The French government was dismissive of the proposal to sell the mine to a domestic company.[16] The USTKE union, which backs the Labour Party, called for a general strike.[8]

Protests and roadblocks across New Caledonia resulted in the nickel industry's day-to-day functions coming to a halt, including the prevention of successful delivery of nickel ore to the territory's Doniambo smelter plant in Nouméa.[17] Roadblocks and demonstrations also reached the island's main port, and colonial authorities suspended international flights.[18] Armed counter-protesters displayed French flags while occupying roadblocks previously held by independence activists. France banned the transport of weapons to counter violence.[7] The roadblocks were later removed.[19] Dozens of protesters were arrested, and several police officers injured.[14] Police reportedly fired tear gas at protesters in central Nouméa.[20][9]

French President Emmanuel Macron and his overseas minister, Sebastien Lecornu, were asked to intervene in the crisis and to help to form a nickel strategy for the island which could be broadly accepted.[8][3][19]

Vale stated that a fire had broken out at the mining plant and local security forces were protecting it. Vale suspended activities in New Caledonia.[21][22]

Anti-independence counter-protesters organized a march in Nouméa, led by New Caledonia president Thierry Santa, which over 20,000 people attended. Regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands Province banned police mobile squads flown in from mainland France from entering the islands because they were allowed to leave quarantine early at the height of the unrest.[19] Kanak leaders called the move to allow police to escape mandatory quarantine a violation of health measures.[7]

Negotiations with protesters resulted in blockades being removed. This allowed nickel ore to once again be delivered to the nickel smelter.[23] There were multiple cases of arson at mining-related sites.[24][25] A proposal by the president of New Caledonia's southern province would allow for fifty-one percent of the nickel plant's stake to go to New Caledonians.[26] Tensions were high in New Caledonia, with pro-independence figures wanting foreigners to hold zero stake in the mine. Anti-independence figures accused the pro-independence FLNKS movement of enacting a coup against the government, describing it as terrorism.[27]

Following the unrest in the territory and resignations from pro-independence officials, the coalition government in New Caledonia collapsed, requiring Congress to elect a new government.[28][29][30] Pro-independence parties won a majority in the elections for a new government.[31]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Protests erupt in New Caledonia over proposed sale of major nickel mine". the Guardian. 2020-12-10. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  2. ^ Burton, Cecile Lefort, Melanie (2014-05-27). "Protesters burn vehicles, buildings at New Caledonia nickel mine". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  3. ^ a b c "Macron urged to intervene in New Caledonia's Vale crisis". FijiTimes. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  4. ^ "Vale's Divestment Collapse Underscores Nickel-Mining Challenges". Bloomberg.com. 2020-09-07. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  5. ^ "Island of Nickel Losing Money as World's Mines Shun Output Cuts". Bloomberg.com. 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  6. ^ Reuters Staff (2017-07-04). "Vale says loss-making New Caledonia nickel operations under review". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  7. ^ a b c d "New Caledonia descends into chaos after armed groups try and overrun a mine". www.abc.net.au. 2020-12-13. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  8. ^ a b c d "Vale sale plan triggers more protests in New Caledonia". RNZ. 2020-10-28. Retrieved 2020-12-11.
  9. ^ a b McDonald, Hamish (2020-12-08). "Corporate buyout threatens civil war in New Caledonia". Asia Times. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  10. ^ "Australia is part of a Black region, it should recognise Kanaky ambition in New Caledonia | Hamish McDonald". the Guardian. 2020-10-25. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  11. ^ "New Caledonia rejects independence in final vote amid boycott". Reuters. 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2021-12-12.
  12. ^ Fisher, Denise. "Why New Caledonia's instability is not just a problem for France". The Conversation. Retrieved 2021-02-10.
  13. ^ "Vale postpones sale of operations in New Caledonia". MINING.COM. 2020-12-04. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  14. ^ a b c "Le nickel, " métal du diable ", embrase la Nouvelle-Calédonie". Le Monde.fr (in French). 2020-12-08. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  15. ^ "New Caledonia: Further protests likely in South Province and other locations through end December over mine sale /update 1". GardaWorld. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  16. ^ "France dismissive of Sofinor bid in New Caledonia". RNZ. 2020-11-17. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  17. ^ Reuters Staff (2020-12-11). "Eramet's New Caledonia nickel smelter low on ore after protests". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  18. ^ "Vale's move to exit New Caledonia nickel mine heightens unrest". Nikkei Asia. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  19. ^ a b c "Road blocks removed after New Caledonia riots". RNZ. 2020-12-14. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  20. ^ "Unrest in New Caledonia over planned sale of Vale nickel plant". RNZ. 2020-12-08. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  21. ^ Reuters Staff (2020-12-14). "Brazil's Vale says fire broke out amid protests in New Caledonia". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  22. ^ "Fire breaks out at Vale mine amid protests in New Caledonia". MINING.COM. Retrieved 2020-12-16.
  23. ^ Reuters Staff (2020-12-21). "Eramet's New Caledonia nickel smelter to boost power as blockades ease". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  24. ^ "Another New Caledonia mine site attacked". RNZ. 2020-12-21. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
  25. ^ "New Caledonia's Vale site again attacked". RNZ. 2020-12-22. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
  26. ^ "New proposal mooted in New Caledonia nickel plant sale". RNZ. 2021-01-11. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  27. ^ "Tension high in New Caledonia over Vale sale". RNZ. 2021-01-18. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  28. ^ Reuters Staff (2021-02-02). "New Caledonia's government collapses over independence, nickel unrest". Reuters. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  29. ^ "New Caledonia government falls apart over nickel deal and independence push". the Guardian. 2021-02-03. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  30. ^ "New Caledonia's Government collapses as pro-independence members resign". www.abc.net.au. 2021-02-02. Retrieved 2021-02-05.
  31. ^ "New Caledonia: Pro-independence parties win majority in snap elections". euronews. 2021-02-17. Retrieved 2021-02-27.