History: Decolonization

Decolonization in the South Pacific

In 1960 the United Nations issued a Declaration of Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which encouraged the trend toward self-government, yet it was not until the independence of Samoa from New Zealand in 1962 that a worldwide wave of decolonization reached the region. During the 1960s and 1970s seven South Pacific countries (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Samoa) became independent as Britain, Australia, and New Zealand dismantled their colonial systems.

The Cook Islands and Niue have achieved de facto independence in association with New Zealand. The French territories, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Wallis and Futuna, have varying degrees of internal autonomy, although great power continues to be wielded by appointed French officials who are not responsible to the local assemblies. Decolonization is a hot issue in these French colonies, where the South Pacific's only active independence movements are found (without forgetting the struggles for land and freedom in nearby Bougainville, West Papua, and Guam). American Samoa remains firmly tied to Washington by the subsidies it receives. Pitcairn is still a British colony, and New Zealand administers Tokelau, but this is at the request of the inhabitants. Easter Island is a colony of Chile.


The postwar period also witnessed the growth of regionalism. In 1947 the South Pacific Commission (called the Secretariat of the Pacific Community since 1997) was established as a coordinating body by the colonial powers of the time. Today 22 island governments also belong to this technical assistance organization. In 1971 the newly independent states formed the South Pacific Forum, renamed the Pacific Islands Forum in 1999, a more vigorous regional body able to tackle political as well as social issues. The Forum Fisheries Agency, created in 1979, negotiates licensing agreements with foreign fishing companies on behalf of the PIF members. The PIF also runs a regional shipping service, the Pacific Forum Line. The South Pacific Regional Environment Program, set up in 1982 by the SPC, the PIF, and the United Nations, promotes sustainable development throughout the region. In 1988 Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu formed the Melanesian Spearhead regional grouping, which Fiji also joined in 1996.

Another major regional institution is the University of the South Pacific, organized in 1967 to serve the English-speaking countries and territories. The initial campus was at Laucala, near Suva, and in 1977 the USP's School of Agriculture was established at Apia, Samoa. The major USP complex at Port Vila, Vanuatu, houses the Pacific Languages Unit and Law Department, and extension centers exist in all 12 member countries. The original aim of the USP was to facilitate the localization of posts held by expatriates until independence, but in recent years the emphasis has shifted from teacher training to business studies and technology. In 1987 the Universitéfrançaise du Pacifique was established with university centers at Tahiti and Nouméa.