President & CEO of New Caledonia’s Société Minière du Sud Pacifique (SMSP)
At his office in Noumea and on a trip to the Vavouto smelter, Andre Dang spoke to Nic Maclellan about the origins of SMSP, negotiations with corporate partners, his ongoing battles with ERAMET and his vision for local control of the nickel industry. Excerpts from the interview:
You were successful in business during the 1960s and 1970s, but this caused you troubles during the Evénements [New Caledonia’s armed conflict in 1984-88]. “From 1984 to 1990 I was a refugee in Australia because of the Evénements. At the time, I was the distributor for Toyota and it was a very successful business. No one wanted to take on the Japanese brands, so this allowed my business to grow alongside the success of the Japanese. “But that success was not allowed for a Vietnamese. We were allowed to open a restaurant, a shop, a hairdresser or the like. But as with the Kanaks, there were some things we weren’t supposed to do, like running a mine or a successful automobile business! I was not well accepted and when the time of conflict came, they chased me out of the country. They burnt down my business and I was forced to take refuge in Australia for six years.”
Wasn’t your friendship with FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou a key reason for your exile? “I was great friends with Jean-Marie Tjibaou. After the signing of the Matignon-Oudinot agreements [in 1988], Jean-Marie approached me and asked if I’d return to help him. I’d built a successful business in Australia by then. In 1989, we had a discussion and I told him: ‘I’m a New Caledonian, I love my country, I was born there. My children are still running businesses there, so it’s natural for me to want to come home.’ “I accepted Jean-Marie’s proposition and agreed to return. However I asked him for three months grace, so I could arrange my affairs in Sydney before coming home. Within a month however, he was taken from us, he was assassinated, so we delayed our return.
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