Book Review – Large-Scale Mines and Local-Level Politics: Between New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea
New Caledonia (NC) and Papua New Guinea (PNG) are both Melanesian countries which not only share geographical and cultural similarities, but whose economies are highly dependent on extractive industries. Due to differing colonial trajectories, research on these two countries has mostly been carved up among the Anglophone and Francophone academies. In Large-Scale Mines and Local-Level Politics, Colin Filer and Pierre-Yves Le Meur succeed in bridging this scholarly divide. In a series of essays, this open access volume examines whether the relationship between large-scale mines and local-level politics is similar due to a distinctively “Melanesian way of menacing the mining industry“, the varied ways in which mining companies engage with local communities, or other differences between the two countries.
Some aspects of the relationship can be explained by the roles and powers of the state, the differing colonial trajectories, and the legal and policy frameworks of these two countries. Whereas New Caledonia is engaged with France in a process of ‘negotiated decolonisation’ through the Noumea Accord [French], the independent state of PNG seems to resemble more of a “naked emperor or paper tiger” (p.34). While French colonisers created ‘tribal reserves’ which alienated Kanak peoples from their land, over 90% of PNG land remains held through customary land tenure. So, when the state now seeks to acquire land to develop a mine, local politics in PNG is dominated by a fierce ‘ideology of landownership’ which individuals deploy to stake claims in PNG’s complex array of business spin-offs, compensation, benefit-sharing, and development agreements. In contrast, because New Caledonia generally excludes customary claims to public land where mining activities mainly take place, and their mines’ benefit streams lack PNG’s complexities, local politics tends to instead emphasise the pursuit of a Kanak national identity …read more