- Sputnik International
Find top stories and features from Asia and the Pacific region. Keep updated on major political stories and analyses from Asia and the Pacific. All you want to know about China, Japan, North and South Korea, India and Pakistan, Southeast Asia and Oceania.

The Little Empire: France Looks to Hold on to its Few Remaining Colonies

© REUTERS / Jean-Paul PelissierFlight deck crew work around a Rafale (L) and a Super Etendard fighter jets as a French flag flies aboard the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before its departure from the naval base of Toulon, France, November 18, 2015
Flight deck crew work around a Rafale (L) and a Super Etendard fighter jets as a French flag flies aboard the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle before its departure from the naval base of Toulon, France, November 18, 2015 - Sputnik International
People in New Caledonia voted against the Pacific territory being granted independence from France. Sputnik looks at the few remaining colonies France has abroad and asks why they still want to hold on to them.

President Emmanuel Macron said he was "immensely proud" that voters in New Caledonia voted on Sunday, November 4, to stay with the mother country.

But the result was quite close with 44 percent voting in favor of independence and 56 percent rejecting it.

Benoit Trepied, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, told Sputnik it was likely there would be another referendum in two years' time.

New Caledonia — which is home to a quarter of the world's known supplies of nickel and is also strategically important — was the scene of a violent uprising by indigenous Kanaks in the 1980s and 90s. The 1998 Noumea Accord granted the island considerable autonomy and agreed they could have up to three referenda before 2022.

"We're a short step away from victory and there are still two votes to come," said Alosio Sako, head of the separatist movement FLNKS.

France's first empire included a huge chunk of North America, which was either sold or lost in war, but at its height its second empire included 4,767,000 square miles, including a huge swathe of Africa and South East Asia.

But what does France have left?


Corsica — where Napoleon was born and brought up — is considered by most people to be as French as Normandy or Paris but the island in the Mediterranean contains a small but fierce nationalist minority who have long yearned for independence.

In February, President Macron visited the island and made a hardline speech in which he refused to grant official status for the Corsican language or allowing the Corsicans some minor tax collecting powers.

"I doubt that Macron's speech will result in the immediate capitulation of Corsicans. I don't believe it for a second. There will be new protests, peaceful, democratic, but determined," Pierre-Antoine Tomasi, president of the Corsica Libera party, told Sputnik.

Tomasi said France was "playing a dangerous game for itself" in Corsica and cited the example of the Catalans, whose long-mocked threats of independence erupted last year.

The Corsican nationalist FLNC was set up in 1976 and carried out thousands of attacks before declaring a ceasefire in 2014.

In 1998 FLNC member Yvan Colonna shot dead Claude Erignac, the French Prefect — or governor — of the island. Colonna went on the run but was captured in 2003 and jailed for life.

French Guiana

France's only possession in Latin America is situated next door to the former British and Dutch colonies of Guyana and Suriname.

Although it is thousands of miles from the French mainland, it is treated as an integral part of France and elects two senators to sit in the Senate in Paris.

George Patient and Jean-Étienne Antoinette both represent the Guianese Socialist Party, which is allied with the once-powerful French Socialist Party.

In recent years there have been major protests over living standards and alleged neglect by Paris in French Guiana.

In May a gendarmerie commander came under fire when he compared the locals to "animals".

The colony's most important economic asset is the European Space Agency's hub at Kourou.

The Spaceport, which was carved out of virgin jungle in the 1960s, has been home to the famous Ariane rockets since the late 1970s.

But many locals claim the majority of skilled jobs at the Spaceport go to Europeans, rather than Guianans.

Martinique and Guadeloupe

Britain granted independence to the vast majority of its island colonies in the Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s but France has held on to two beautiful properties — Martinique and Guadeloupe.

Former France and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry — who recently took over as manager of Monaco after being overlooked by Aston Villa — is one of thousands of Frenchmen and women descended from Caribbean migrants. His mother, Maryse, was Martinique and his father, Antoine, was from Guadeloupe.

In 2015 Alfred Marie-Jeanne, the leader of the Martinican Independence Movement, was elected to the 51-member Assembly in Martinique.

Martinique has an unemployment rate of 19 percent —higher than the French mainland — and its economy has been in a deep malaise since the 2009 global banking crisis.

In Guadeloupe antipathy towards France has historically been stronger.

In 1980 the Guadeloupe Liberation Army set off 15 bombs and warned white French people on the island to "pack their bags and leave."

The French government arrested dozens, put many others under surveillance and the GLA fizzled out.


A tiny speck of land in the Indian Ocean, Mayotte remains French.

The island decided to stay part of France in 1975 when the nearby Comoros declared independence.

In 2009 Mayotte voted for complete integration into the French state, largely because of the economic benefits.

Earlier this year ethnic tensions broke out between indigenous people and illegal immigrants from the Comoros and Africa.

Roadblocks and a general strike followed and there were violent clashes between rival gangs at a school.

Instead of traveling to the island himself President Macron sent his overseas minister, Annick Girardin, which was perceived as a slight by the locals in Mayotte.

But there is little appetite for declaring independence, such is the largesse handed out by France and the EU.

To participate in the discussion
log in or register
Заголовок открываемого материала