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Forecast podcast: French army deployed to Pacific territory New Caledonia after deadly riots

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Owen Bonertz discuss the deadly riots in New Caledonia, plus more on an EU mission ending in Mali, elections in the Dominican Republic, some EU member countries recognizing the State of Palestine and Kenya’s president visiting the White House.

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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Owen Bonertz, Awais Ahmad, Irene Villora, Agnese Boffano and Joe Veyera. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is May 16.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got riots in New Caledonia, an EU mission ending in Mali, elections in the Dominican Republic, some EU member countries recognizing the State of Palestine and Kenya’s president visiting the White House.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you’ll find a link to in the show notes.

New Caledonia riots

Information compiled by Owen Bonertz

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at the protests and riots that broke out this week in New Caledonia. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal editor Owen Bonertz.

JIMMY: Hello, Owen. 

OWEN: Hey, Jimmy, thanks for having me on. 

JIMMY: Well, this is the first time we’ve had you on the podcast, but I believe it’s also the first time we’ve covered New Caledonia. Glad you’re here.

OWEN: You know, I’ve always kind of been fascinated by the precarious and unique relationship between France and some of its overseas territories. I think there’s just so much nuance from territory to territory and there’s nowhere where that’s really more obvious than New Caledonia, which is an island territory off the northeast coast of Australia. There’s roughly 270,000 residents there. Pretty small, with an ethnic Kanak majority and a sizable minority of European settlers who have been moving there from France since basically the 1850s when the French government took it over.

JIMMY: Well, Owen, not very often we get to discuss riots, much less in a French territory in the South Pacific, but I’m hoping you can get us caught up on what we need to know. So, what’s been going on?

OWEN: So the story really begins in December when the French prime minister put forth a bill to unfreeze the electoral roll for the provincial elections and, crucially, any potential independence referendums. While New Caledonia is considered an integral part of France by the government – you know, they send representatives to Paris, they vote for the president – their status is a little different than somewhere like French Guiana or Mayotte, some of the other French overseas territories. The island actually saw a lot of separatist violence in the 1980s, including a major hostage crisis. And so that pushed the local Kanak population and the French to sign a peace deal called the Noumea Accords in 1998. Since then, it’s been relatively stable. There’s actually been three separate independence referendums, all of which resulted in the island voting to stay a part of France. And under that Noumea Accord agreement, most of the population are, of course, French citizens, but a separate right to vote in local elections and referendums is, at the moment, only given to those who resided in the island before the 1998 Noumea Accords and their descendants. So what Paris is proposing is to amend this to allow anyone who’s lived in the territory for more than 10 years the right to vote in December’s upcoming local elections and potentially any future independence referendums. So, needless to say, this hasn’t really gone over well with separatists from the native Kanak community and peaceful protests have been taking place pretty much all year up until this point. Of course, things came to a head on Monday, when some of those separatists began rioting around the city of Noumea, setting fire to over 50 businesses, including factories, water infrastructure and government buildings.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest? Any new developments?

OWEN: Yeah, so at the moment, at least four people have been killed, including a French federal police officer. It’s also worth noting that that number doesn’t include roughly 30 people who the French High Commissioner said were trapped inside of a burning factory on Tuesday. There have been a lot of other reports of shootouts, panic buying, fuel shortages. And obviously Paris is attempting to crack down and kind of regain control of the island. At least 130 people have been arrested up until this point, including a pair of separatist leaders and hundreds of additional French security forces are on their way or already there, to the island. At the moment, the island is currently under a state of emergency, a curfew, a gathering ban, and as of Wednesday, even a ban on Tik Tok.

JIMMY: What other sort of reactions have you seen to the violence there?

OWEN: So despite everything it seems that the French government is going to push ahead with the reform. Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party and his other liberal and centrist allies in Parliament have voted to move the process forward on Wednesday morning. There is some opposition in the French legislature, namely the left wing parties like La France Insoumise, and Macron has made it very clear that he and Prime Minister Gabriel Attall want to negotiate with New Caledonian leaders to sort of find a compromise. But if that doesn’t work, he said that the law could continue to be debated and be finalized before even the end of June. So for the most part, separatist politicians on New Caledonia have condemned the violence. And we haven’t seen any sort of domino effect in the other French overseas territories or any sort of greater call to organized resistance against the French authority.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next then? 

OWEN: Well, I would unfortunately expect the human cost of the civil unrest to keep rising. As I previously mentioned, there’s at least 30 people still unaccounted for from the factory fire in Noumea on Tuesday, and protesters on the ground still significantly outnumber the security forces on the ground. French government officials have said that the demonstrators are largely unorganized and don’t really resemble an armed militant group like they might have in the 1980s. Looking more broadly, I think one cascading effect is the situation could disrupt the global nickel markets. New Caledonia alone is the world’s fourth largest nickel exporter and the metal accounts for 90% of their economy, roughly. With that being said, there’s no indication at the moment that the mines have been attacked or significantly disrupted. Finally, I would expect more prominent separatists to be arrested, but not necessarily members of the FLNKS party and other separatist parties that actually have quite a bit of representation in the local parliament. Matter of fact, at the moment, the president of [the government of] New Caledonia – who is of course separate from the President of France, Emmanuel Macron – is a separatist himself, Louis Mapou. Overall, I would say another major factor to consider is that, despite the fact that New Caledonia is more developed than some of the other Melanesian islands, their economic indicators still lag quite a bit behind mainland France and I think any sort of upcoming negotiations between Paris and New Caledonian leaders will kind of have to address that as well as the decolonial nature of the conflict going on there.

JIMMY: Well, Owen, we’ll stop there for today, but thank you so much for getting us caught up to speed. Appreciate it. 

OWEN: Thanks, Jimmy.

May 18: EU mission in Mali expires

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: European Union member states have agreed to end their military training mission in Mali after the mandate expires on Saturday.

The mission trained both the country’s armed forces as well as members of the G5 Sahel multinational counterterrorism force for around 11 years. 

Mali’s current military junta, which seized power in 2021 after a coup the year prior, has failed to uphold promises to restore civilian rule and postponed elections set for February earlier this year.

Now, the EU says the decision follows a strategic review and consultation with Mali’s authorities. 

It says the decision also takes into account the “evolution of the political and security situation on the ground.” 

Still, while the EU has ensured that channels for dialogue will remain open, the decision for non-renewal signifies the international organization’s deteriorating relations with the West African country.

May 19: Dominican Republic general election

Information compiled by Irene Villora

JIMMY: Voters in the Dominican Republic will elect a new president and members of congress on Sunday.

Incumbent President Luis Abinader from the center-left Modern Revolutionary Party is leading the polls as he seeks a second consecutive term. 

Among the other eight candidates, three-time former President Leonel Fernández from the progressive left People’s Force party and former Santiago de los Caballeros Mayor Abel Martínez from the center-left Dominican Liberation Party follow Abinader in recent voter surveys

Some 190 congress deputies and 32 senators will also be elected as part of the legislative elections.

Now, the presidential campaign has revolved around the topics of delinquency within Dominican borders, the unequal distribution of wealth in the country and tensions with neighboring Haiti. 

All three of the top candidates agree on tougher measures to tackle illegal migration from Haiti. 

Abinader has promised to finish the construction of a wall at the country’s border to dissuade Haitians from crossing. 

If no candidate secures more than 50 percent of votes, the top two will face a runoff on June 30. 

May 21: Some EU member countries to recognize the State of Palestine

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: On Tuesday, Spain, Ireland, Slovenia and Malta are set to become the latest EU member countries to recognize Palestinian statehood.

The European Union’s long-standing position has been in line with the 1993 Oslo Accords, which supported Palestinian statehood in a two-state agreement with Israel. 

Eight other EU members have already officially recognized Palestine as a state, with EU chief Josep Borrell saying Spain and Ireland will likely be added to the list next week. 

The decision comes after the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to back a Palestinian bid for full UN membership last Friday.

Now, Borell said the push for these EU member countries to back a Palestinian statehood serves as a “symbolic act of political nature” that “recognized the will for that state to exist.” 

Spain and Ireland have long discussed a two-state solution as a viable option for the conflict, with statehood envisioned along its 1967 borders. 

And while the UN vote doesn’t grant Palestine full membership or give it voting rights in the assembly, it serves as an expression of the changing world opinion in favor of Palestinian statehood. 

It comes as more countries condemn the Israeli military offensive in Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced individuals are currently sheltering.

May 23: Kenyan president visits White House

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: U.S. President Joe Biden will host Kenyan leader William Ruto next Thursday. It marks the first official state visit by an African head of state since 2008.

The White House said the talks between Biden and Ruto will focus on “trade and investment, technological innovation, climate and clean energy, health, and security.” 

But despite a bipartisan request by members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Speaker Mike Johnson declined to extend an invitation to Ruto to speak before a joint session of Congress, citing “scheduling restraints.”

Now, after Biden failed to visit Africa last year despite a promise to do so, some observers see Ruto’s visit as a potential catalyst to improve relations across the continent.

The visit could also counter Russian and Chinese influence, more than a year after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. 

Meanwhile, Kenya is also viewed as a key partner for the United States on security in both East Africa and Haiti, with hundreds of Kenyan officers expected to be deployed to the Caribbean in the coming weeks.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Awais Ahmad, Irene Villora, Agnese Boffano and Joe Veyera. Our interview featured editor Owen Bonertz and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2024 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: The flag of New Caledonia and France flying on the same flag pole. Photo by BeenAroundAWhile at en.wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons