THE French state has effectively chosen sides in a long-running dispute over the monarchy in Uvea, despite a convention to stay out of local customary affairs in Wallis and Futuna. By publishing his name in the official government gazette, France has recognised Patalione Kanimoa as the new Lavelua or king in Uvea. But Kanimoa’s accession to the throne is under challenge by a contender from another royal clan.
Recent clashes over culture, land and customary institutions will continue. France has maintained its colonial presence in Wallis and Futuna since the 19th century, from the first Catholic mission in 1837, through establishment of a protectorate after 1888.
Following a 1959 referendum, Wallis and Futuna adopted a status as a French overseas territory in 1961. After constitutional reforms in Paris in 2003, the islands are now described as a “French overseas collectivity.” During his flying visit to Wallis and Futuna last February, President Francois Hollande reaffirmed France’s commitment to the islands (even though it was the first visit by a French President in 37 years).
While the capital Mata-Utu receives less attention than Noumea or Papeete, France still has strategic interests in the islands. In an interview with local TV last February, Hollande promised to develop the territory’s ties to Paris: “I think that having by Nic Maclellan these two islands Wallis and Futuna in the Pacific allows France to have a presence, and also an Exclusive Economic Zone that could be a source of wealth.”
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