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Covid-19, Telecommuting and Africa’s Digital Space
July 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

Opeoluwa Runsewe
Opeoluwa Runsewe

By Opeoluwa Runsewe

The workplace and the education sector can now create new, sustainable models which are accessible, inclusive and qualitative

 It is no news that the outbreak and proliferation of Covid-19 have had some of the most acute implications on global economies in recent times; the vast majority of private and public institutions have been put on edge and are being forced to mitigate these unforeseen contingencies by adopting the swiftest and most dynamic mechanisms.

Gradually, the virus has spread to 188 countries, with it’s ramifications cutting across all demographics. According to verified data by John Hopkins University in the United States, as at July 16th 2020, more than 13.5 million cases and 584,000 deaths had been reported; Schools, businesses and airports have been closed, restrictions on movement and large gatherings have been enforced, and one too many businesses have been obligated to urgently close shop regardless of the concerted effort by governments and health care professionals to curtail the rate of infection. However, it remains largely uncertain and highly debatable as to whether the recently imposed restrictive measures will be totally terminated in a bid to ensure that economic activities can imminently reach full potential. According to the IMF, the global economy will shrink by 3% this year; in what is described as the worst decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The effects of restrictions on countries expectedly differ. The availability of universal healthcare, digital devices, access to data, digitalization of systems and processes, good and affordable broadband internet service, financial inclusion, social prosperity and other proactive measures have been consequential in countries that appear to attenuate the enormous economic impact. For instance, the central banks of several countries have successfully slashed interest rates alongside other Fiscal and monetary policies, all in an effort to encourage borrowing and spending. These measures have however proven to be some of the most feasible ways to theoretically boost their respective economies. The UK, Germany, Italy and France are some of the countries that have furloughed government-supported job retention schemes extended to the millions of people that constitute their work-forces.

However, the impacts of Covid-19 join a long list of factors that expose Africa’s perceived economic backwardness; evidently prompted by some of the earlier mentioned infrastructure either lying in poor state, being totally dormant, lagging behind on up-to-date trends or being summarily unavailable to majority of the working population. In turn, this constricts the capacity to remain productive, keep businesses running and ensure optimal revenue generation.

With more than 590,000 confirmed cases in all African countries as at July 17th 2020, the pandemic has undoubtedly caused significant social and economic disruption. African countries have been propelled to impose various preventive and containment measures; South Africa, Rwanda, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo constitute some of the countries that announced complete lockdowns. Governments, through their machineries and the media, have urged residents to stay home and distant, all in order to limit person-to-person transmission.

Many employers across the continent have therefore transitioned to telecommuting; permitting employees to work from home or outside their traditional workspaces, and using video conferencing platforms to conduct staff and client meetings. These employers are also adopting technological solutions that enable them shift the bulk of their operations online.

With the exemption of a few essential service providers, most organizations swiftly directed members of staff in various locations to work from home. Ringier One Africa Media (ROAM), a media company with operations in eight Sub-Saharan African countries is one of those organizations. On 24th March 2020, it signaled its readiness to adjust by announcing that it required its 400 employees to work remotely, as part of its efforts to protect them from the widespread of the virus.

Organizations are also taking advantage of Africa’s booming digital space to convene virtual management and shareholder meetings, in order to maintain the standard procedures required for effective decision-making and corporate governance. United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) is a Pan-African financial institution offering bank services to more than twenty million customers, across 1,000 business offices and customer touchpoints, in 20 African countries. On April 29th 2020, UBA held its first virtual Annual General Meeting. In attendance were representatives of relevant regulatory bodies, shareholders, management and staff of the organization. Similar industry leaders like Zenith Bank and Standard Bank Group Plc have since followed suit.

Finally, businesses have adopted strategies that have allowed both staff and customers to smoothly transition from routine cash payments to online transactions. Paga, a mobile money organization with 500 employees and a presence in two African countries is one of such. On 24th March 2020, it announced strategies to reduce cash handling, in order to slow the spread of Covid-19 and adjusted its fees in such a way that merchants can accept payment with its platform without incurring any charges.

Covid-19 has also had its enormous implications in the education sector. UNESCO says that 9.8 million African students are experiencing acute interruptions in their education, and this undoubtedly raises pressing concern.

In Nigeria, a few state governments (e.g. Ogun, Kwara and Lagos) have made provisions for continued learning via local television and radio. That is, following the indefinite closure of schools, as declared on 19th March 2020 by the Federal Government of Nigeria. This is also the case in Ivory Coast and Botswana, with both operating similar models all aimed at bridging this threatening gap. In Ghana, the University of Ghana conducts online classes and has since negotiated free internet data with indigenous telecom companies. 

In Rwanda, South Africa, and Tunisia, universities have partnered with governments and internet service providers to avail students across the various institutions free access to select educational websites. In March, Eneza education partnered with Safaricom Plc to deliver free revision material to Kenyan students for 60 days; OJAR foundation, an NGO committed to the capacity development of young innovators, and African digital education leaders, Sapphital partnered to deliver an initiative dubbed ‘E-learning4impact’ which provides free access to an impressive catalogue of specially curated courses for young African across different disciplines. Private organizations and NGOs have adopted similar strategies in Egypt, Libya, Liberia, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa.

While ‘Work From Home’ (WFH) and ‘Learning Never Stops’ strategies are admirable, their plausibility raises important questions. That is, against a backdrop of twin challenges – power supply and internet access. In Africa, these are effectively crippling the digital solutions and other digitalized measures aimed at taking the edge of the effects of the virus.

While the rate of global access to electricity is 87 percent, the rate in Africa is a sultry 43 percent. Residents in African countries like Chad, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda suffer epileptic power supplies. In addition, going online presents complications in an Africa where only 24% of the population have access to internet. Related problems include poor connectivity and exorbitant costs. Getting online is expensive for majority of the populace, reports suggest that purchasing a mobile phone and 500MB worth of internet data cost an average 10 percent of monthly income.

Notably, Transsion Holdings, an Asian company, produces mobile phone brands like Techno, Infinix and Itel, specifically tailored to be hybrid option; providing top-notch features and at the same time, relatively low-cost. Africans also purchase previously owned phones flooding the markets from various parts of the world hence considerably reducing the cost of mobile phone purchase amid the barely existent credit or installment payment options. Yet, a vast majority of African telecom service providers do not offer the high-speed internet access and affordable data packages to facilitate the necessary adoption of telecommuting, easy digital transactions, etc.

In usual African fashion; thriving amid long-existing turbulence, Africa is experiencing fast growth in it’s digital space. There is visible increase in tech-enabled businesses in Africa. Notably, mobile technology in Africa is its fastest growing market. 70% of the world is already connected via mobile with Africa experiencing the fastest growth in this respect. PwC reports that between 2007 – 2016, mobile phone usage in Africa increased by 344%. Mobile broadband is accessible to two-third of the population and has hugely contributed to the continent’s socio-economic development by affording digital and financial inclusion.

Importantly, mobile phones have afforded small businesses the means to participate in e-commerce. Nigeria’s e-commerce sector is Africa’s largest, valued at $13 billion. Meanwhile, WhatsApp is a free mobile app used by millions of Nigerians. Small businesses have become smart; using WhatsApp to build strong consumer relationships, increase market share and, to boost revenue generation.

The challenges in Africa’s digital space, as unveiled by the pandemic, have been percieved to be slowing down the expected utilization of technology on the continent. However, the present awareness of these problems present endless opportunities, and should become an important launch pad for innovation in infrastructure and the digital marketplace. The workplace and the education sector, for instance, can now create new, sustainable models which are accessible, inclusive and qualitative.
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Tribalism and the Church in Anglophone Cameroon
June 9, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Rev Fr Joseph Awoh*

*Rev Fr Joseph Awoh is Vice Chancellor of Catholic University of Cameroon,Bamenda

A tribe is basically a group of people that includes many families and relatives who have the same language, customs, and beliefs. Cameroon has over two hundred tribes and tribe is one of our strongest markers as Cameroonians. There is nothing wrong with belonging to a tribe and no one chooses the tribe into which they are born. Over time, however, the word has taken on other meanings and, today, can also refer to an interest group united around a leader and an idea. In this way each of us belongs to a number of tribes including – in Cameroon and most of Africa – the one into which we were born. Again, this is good and beneficial. Human beings are not built to survive without group support. For a long time in human history this group support has been crucial for identity, for a sense of belonging and for survival.

It is from the word tribe that tribalism is derived. Up until the mid-20th century, tribalism was exclusively used to describe aspects of living in a traditional tribe. However, like the word tribe, tribalism also evolved and took on a more derogatory meaning. Today, tribalism is often seen as putting one’s own group above every other consideration, including justice. It is used to describe people who are overly loyal to their tribal group and exalt it above all others, whether these are ethnic, religious, professional or just interest groups. It is the behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or interest group and leads one to support them whatever they do.

In our Cameroonian context, some persons have come to view their own tribe and culture as inherently superior to that of others and this has led to deep distrust between tribes. This distrust manifests itself in relations between Anglophones and Francophones, between north westerners and south westerners, between northerners and southerners, between Bangwa and Bayangi, between Mbessa and Oku, and so on. You only need to look at the political scene in Cameroon to see how we have been splintered along tribal and regional lines. And this is basically why the government has come up with the doctrine of living together. At its very worst, tribalism can lead to ethnic cleansing and genocide as we have seen it happen elsewhere. In fact, those words have been used recently in Cameroon (rightly or wrongly) to describe the socio-political crisis which we are going through in the northwest and southwest regions.

Elizabeth Segal holds that we are built to be tribal but sometimes tribalism goes too far[1]. It becomes “bad tribalism”, a group identity that fosters the bullying and scapegoating of people who are different to us. We see this everyday in sports and social life but, in the last two weeks, the death of George Floyd, a black man choked to death by a white police officer kneeling on his windpipe for close to nine minutes, has shone a light on racism in America like nothing else has since the 1960s. The phenomenon in sports when fans make monkey chants and throw bananas at black players and athletes and the unequal treatment of blacks in the United States of America and elsewhere is called racism. While we all understand that bad tribalism in Cameroon is not the exact equivalent of racism, it is indicative of the way most people feel the effects of tribalism. Victims of tribalism feel the same way black Americans are feeling right now.

And that is why, as a Catholic priest, I feel really sick when bad tribalism rears its ugly head in the Church. For a long time our priests and fellow Christians on the other side of the Moungo did not want bishops appointed to them from other ethnic groups. Recent examples where tribal sentiments have superseded reason and faith and turned the church into the laughing stock of society include the Archdioceses of Yaounde and Douala. As Anglophones we prided ourselves of a different tradition and argued that this should not happen in the Church. But, as most of Anglophone society has swapped Anglo-Saxon traditions for those of our brothers and sisters east of the Moungo, the Anglophone Church has followed suit. Instead of leading society in the spiritual and moral domains, society is leading us. We have begun to agitate for priests and bishops to be appointed along tribal and ethnic lines and for a regional balance in these appointments, even as we witness how regional balance and tribal and ethnic considerations in politics has trumped professionalism and fostered incompetence in high places and wreaked havoc in an otherwise truly blessed country. As north westerners and south westerners what benefit has the appointment of Prime Ministers from our regions brought to us and to our communities? Nothing at all, except to those who belong to the tribe of their families and cronies. How will the appointment of a Bishop from my tribe, my interest group or region benefit me? Will it make me a better Christian, a holier person or will it bring me and the members of my interest group closer to the centre of Church power and give me advantages over others? How will the appointment of a priest to a particular post of responsibility benefit me as a Catholic Christian? Will this benefit be material or spiritual?

In Living the Priesthood[2], I listed the criteria which the Diocesan Pastoral Council of Portsmouth Diocese produced when they were searching for a replacement for Bishop Crispian Hollis who was retiring. Among these criteria was one that specifically asked that the prospective bishop should not come from Portsmouth Diocese. It said: Not a priest of this diocese, a man new to us all. The good of the diocese and the Church came before their personal interests and tribal considerations, and Rome appointed Bishop Philip Egan, a priest of the Diocese of Shrewsbury. How did we come to this point in this country where appointment committees and placement boards have to look over their shoulders all the time before appointing priests to positions of responsibility in their dioceses and in the Church to ensure that every tribe and ethnic group has a fair share of the ecclesiastical cake?

We are walking a very slippery slope as Christians and the option to follow the failed political model of regional and tribal balance is outright wrong and unchristian. And why is this wrong? First, we are all human beings and Christians. We cannot condemn bad tribalism in sports and in political and social life in America and elsewhere and encourage it in the Church of God. St. Paul tells us that in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Second, the mission which Christ gave us before ascending to the Father was to go make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20). The mission of the Church is not to grow our tribes, advance our agendas, increase our platforms and enlarge our visibility. Third, when we are tribal in the Church, we destroy the unity for which Christ himself prayed in John 17:21 – May they all be one! Fourth, we are taking over control of the Church from the Holy Spirit who guides her and enthroning ourselves in His place. In other words, we are saying the Holy Spirit has not been able to do His work and we are replacing Him. This is an abomination. Finally, tribalism as behaviour and attitudes that stem from strong loyalty to one’s own tribe or social group and leads one to support the tribe whatever they do is simply devilish. It chokes its victims in the same way racism is choking our brothers and sisters elsewhere and it chokes the entire Church.

I am not unaware that in the history of the Church, nepotism and similar evils have been practiced, even in the highest of offices, but I do not think that we are here to propagate evils which the Church herself has condemned in the past. To point to those practices as an excuse for our tribal behaviour would be tantamount to justifying the evil which we are doing by showing that others before us had engaged in similar evil behaviour. As Church and as individual members of the Church we must all confront the evil of tribalism and not copy what we know to be wrong, no matter who is doing it. For my part I shall pray that my tribal instincts may not hamper the work of the Holy Spirit who leads the Church (and who is blind to tribe, ethnicity and interest group) and that competence and suitability of candidates will be the only criteria for my recommendations to positions of responsibility in the Church. This is what we learn from the selection of the seven deacons in the Acts of the Apostles: non-tribal criteria were set and the selection was done and then the seven were ‘consecrated’ for service. And what was the result? …and the word of God continued to spread (6:1-7).

[1] Elizabeth A. Segal, When Tribalism goes Bad, Psychology Today, March 30, 2019 online at https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/social-empathy/201903/when-tribalism-goes-bad

[2] Joseph Awoh (2016) Living the Priesthood, page 23

*Rev Fr Joseph Awoh is Vice Chancellor of Catholic University of Cameroon,Bamenda

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Opinion: Racism seeks to drive us apart but there are rays of hope
June 9, 2020 | 0 Comments
Patricia Scotland is the Commonwealth Secretary-General
 By Patricia Scotland*

Today I received a message from a parent. Her nine-year-old son, Oscar, had been sitting in his living room during the Covid-19 lockdown, watching coverage of protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in the United States.

He was perplexed and sat glued to his television as he watched images beamed from America, Canada, Australia and from the United Kingdom of masses of people of all races chanting ‘I can’t breathe’ and demanding an end to racism.  

This fiercely intelligent mixed-race child had been raised to be proud of his blended heritage. So he was desperate to understand the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death, and the raw wounds it had opened up in communities across the world.

Oscar turned to his mother and fired a series of profound and deeply disconcerting questions, which she shared with me. He wanted to know why black people were being treated in this appalling way, and why some people did not understand the concept of equality. As his mother tried to respond to these difficult questions, the discussion led to the institution of the Commonwealth. Oscar wanted to know why countries who were former colonies of the British empire had willingly decided to create a union based on equality and friendship.

His questions deeply affected me, because they were the same questions I had asked my father when I was nine. I had been watching the painful and frightening saga of apartheid play out on TV, and I had already experienced the reality of being a child of the Windrush generation.
So it is deeply distressing to see that after decades of civil rights movements, race riots, powerful ‘I-have-a-dream’ speeches, and the establishment of equality laws, that we have somehow managed to come back full circle.

Here I am in 2020 witnessing the horrific manifestation of this still festering wound – a white policeman, undeterred by onlookers, nonchalantly kneeling on the neck of a black man who is begging for mercy, pleading for his life, until he is forced into permanent silence.

More and more these incidents of savagery, evil and of a lack of humanity are being caught on camera in real time – so there can be no claims of exaggeration or distortion. But it also means that children of all races around our Commonwealth are being exposed to a trauma and their parents are facing difficult questions.

I believe that our young people, like Oscar, who represent 60 per cent of our population in the Commonwealth, deserve to know why they are still having to ask these questions.  More importantly, they need to have hope that we can build on the progress we have made and create a future in which their children and grandchildren are not asking the same questions. My response is to point to the model of the Commonwealth.

In 1949, the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, explaining why his country had decided to join the Commonwealth, spoke about its “desirable method” which “brings a touch of healing” to our sick world.

These sentiments were later echoed by Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 when she described the Commonwealth as, “an entirely new conception, built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace”.

It is true that our Commonwealth story is one of a family at times scarred by old hurts and resentments, and of a relationship sometimes strained and afflicted by fissures such as racism. But I point to the Commonwealth because our history also shows that, standing on the strong foundation of our friendship, our shared values, our common aspirations, and our spirit of collaboration, we have always been brave enough to look evil straight in the face and call it for what it is.

Our collective refusal to turn a blind eye to apartheid, and our tireless fight for the small, the vulnerable and the marginalised has made us as an enigma of diversity and equality.

Today, the Commonwealth is 54 countries, small and large, from five different regions representing one third of humanity, of all races, cultures, creeds, religions and economic positions, bound by the same language, the same common law, parliamentary and institutional framework, and values. And their leaders can sit together, all with equal say, making joint decisions on some of the worlds’ greatest challenges.  

I am extremely proud of this accomplishment, but Floyd’s final silence was a deafening reminder of the challenges we still face. And Oscar’s questions, posed in the midst of a global pandemic and worsening economic and environmental crisis, presents a new set of challenges.

I am encouraged by the rays of hope I see shining through in the peaceful marches led by people of all races and cultures, and by police joining protests, not to stand against peaceful protesters, but to kneel with them in solidarity.

So I have hope that we are able to beat this, but we can only do so if we can see the bitter racism which has managed to poison minds and institutions and all of us resolve to eradicate it. We must also understand that the only antidote is to contradict this flawed ideology with the strong values of equality.

Often, when people ask me about the Commonwealth’s impact and I tell them about the importance of our Charter of values, they look at me strangely. But recent events and Oscar’s questions have made it clear that we must have solid strategies to integrate these values into every part of our society, including our education systems.

The truth is that we are at a defining moment in our history, and the choices we make matter, perhaps more than at any other time for a generation. We cannot afford to allow racism to divide us and drive us into social unrest. We all inhabit the same planet, together we are all battling the same pandemic. And it is only if we join together, in the face of our competing viewpoints and ambitions, that we can hope to defeat this pandemic, regenerate our communities and take on the economic and environmental challenges that this planet faces and defeat the corrosive stain of racism which would seek to tear us apart.

*This article first appeared on Monday 8 June 2020 on the Thompson Reuters News wire. Patricia Scotland is Commonwealth Secretary-General

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IMF should issue special drawing rights as grants to Africa
May 4, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Thomas Boni Yayi*

*Dr Yayi is former President of the Republic of Benin .Photo Credit Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Since the start of the Covid-19 health crisis, the global economy has been grounded in one quarter with a likely annual growth forecast of -3% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In Europe, taboos are falling. On March 20, 2020, the European Commission announced an unprecedented suspension of budgetary discipline rules. Ongoing negotiations between heads of state and government over a new stimulus package to prevent economic disaster is estimated to be around €$1 trillion. The European Central Bank (ECB), for its part, in its will to do “everything necessary within the framework of its mandate to help the eurozone to overcome this crisis”, announced €$1 billion in massive assets buyouts in the financial markets throughout 2020.

The United States has responded to the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus with the largest economic relief programme in its history, at $3 trillion. At the same time, the US Federal Reserve (The Fed) has indicated its willingness to buy an essentially unlimited amount of public debt – a very aggressive programme of financial instruments buybacks by the end of 2020 of nearly $3 billion.

With regards to economic solutions adapted to Africa, I think there are essentially two challenges which need to be separated: first, that of mobilizing new resources to finance the response to the virus crisis; then the cancellation of Africa’s debt as part of a strategic partnership without undermining the attractiveness of the continent.

Consequently, I suggest that the IMF, in addition to the first aid package already distributed to some African states, should issue Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), to the tune of  €114 billion, which corresponds to the needs of the African continent according to indications provided by the Managing Director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, to enable Africa – whose central banks do not have the same capacity to respond as those of China, the United States or the euro zone – address the negative impact of this health crisis as quickly as possible.

We will either triumph, or perish, together. Therefore, Africa cannot and should not be left on the margins of the various measures supported by central banks in Europe, the Americas or Asia. This IMF assistance, through the issuance of SDRs will be convertible with central banks such as the Fed, the ECB, the Central Bank of Japan and the Central Bank of China, determined to support African states to tackle this COVID-19 crisis.  This support will allow the strengthening of the external assets of African central banks whose capacity in relation to their long-term commitment does not cover more than 4 to 5 months of imports.

The overall needs of the African continent can be assessed on the basis of regional economic communities  and  the  use  of  resources  must  be  done  in  strict  compliance  with  the  good governance prescribed by the African Peer Review Mechanism (MAEP).

These investment requirements relate to the modernisation of hospital infrastructure, precautionary measures, treatment, education and skills’ training of hospital staff, not to mention social protection for citizens, economic recovery, price stability and the reduction of unemployment.

With regards to the cancellation of Africa’s debt, the speed required to manage the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus cannot be hampered by issues that have always aroused the hesitation of the creditor states. While recognizing the correctness of this request and referring to the reluctance of the G20 to stick to the one-year moratoriums on the payment of debt service, I welcome the initiative of the African Union to set up a committee which, in addition to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, would give impetus to Africa’s request for debt cancellation.

In  the  1990s,  Africa  already  benefited  from  the  HIPC  (Heavily  Indebted  Poor  Countries) initiative with the cancellation of bilateral and multilateral debt. This initiative cast doubt on the solvency  of  the  continent.  This  second  request  for  cancellation  would  probably  merit negotiations at three levels: at the level of multilateral institutions, at the level of States and at the level of the private sector.

If this request were to be taken into account, would it not raise some questions at the level of multilateral banks? A cancellation of their receivables will have an impact on their creditworthiness. At the state level, negotiations are possible but it is the same creditors who feed multilateral institutions. The question is whether a country like China, a member of the G20, is prepared to cancel its debt on the continent, which is 40% of Africa’s debt – and about $360 billion. Finally, in the private sector, there is the question of who will reimburse them?

These are obstacles that will take a long time while the treatment of this virus requires speedy action to be taken to contain the human and economic devastation. We will certainly end up with treatment on a case-by-case basis.

In conclusion, I suggest an emergency issuance of Special Drawing Rights for Africa by the IMF, which already involves the main contributors to IMF resources. Only genuinely united and globally coordinated management of this health crisis can save humanity. We are no longer at the stage of making promises. We must stop the mass deaths we witness on a daily basis and revive economic activities.

*Courtesy of Daily Trust.Dr Yayi is former President of the Republic of Benin, former Chairman in Office of West African Economic and Monetary Union, and former President of the African Union-AU

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Opinion: We must leverage the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ to counter the economic fallout of COVID-19
April 24, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Patricia Scotland*

Patricia Scotland is Secretary General of the Commonwealth



The world is bracing for a massive hit to the global economy in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Experts have warned of a US$1-2 trillion shortfall in global income this year, while world trade could contract by between 13 and 32 per cent.

As countries take drastic measures to fight the spread of the disease, we are seeing borders and businesses closed, domestic and international travel scaled back, and a totally transformed way of life due to social distancing. Currently, 2.6 billion people across the world are affected by their workplace closing.

The result is a sweeping drop in economic activity, a much less active workforce, on top of growing global insecurity for the future. Without ample government bailouts, poor developing countries and small states remain the most vulnerable in the face of the pandemic.

However, history has shown that with the right policies and support measures in place, the Commonwealth as a whole will eventually be able to overcome the economic fallout – though extremely bleak times lie ahead.

In particular, gradually reviving trade flows amongst 54 member countries – worth more than an estimated US$700 billion in 2019 – can play a fundamental role in boosting economic recovery, while harnessing the benefits of Commonwealth ties.

Recovering from the crisis

Given the unprecedented nature of current pandemic, I am cautious in comparing economic-induced and biological-induced crises. However, the 2008-2009 global financial crisis can offer some insights about the Commonwealth’s possible performance.

Over the years following the global financial crisis, the Commonwealth’s overall exports of both goods and services grew at a faster rate than the world average.

From 2010 to 2018, the Commonwealth’s exports in goods, which make up 70 per cent of its trade, grew by around 8 per cent, compared to only 5.5 per cent for the world.

In fact, during the global trade slowdown of 2012 to 2016, the Commonwealth’s services exports were especially resilient, expanding by 7 per cent, on average – more than twice the growth rate for the rest of the world.

Rapid population and per capita income growth (especially in Asia) are part of the driving forces behind the Commonwealth’s buoyancy. With 2.4 billion people, 60 per cent of whom are under the age of 30, these drivers are unlikely to slow anytime soon – with or without coronavirus.

Commonwealth Advantage

Moreover, Commonwealth countries share historical ties, familiar legal and administrative systems, a common language of operation (English) and large dynamic diasporas, which help make trade and investment more convenient and efficient.

While not a formal trading bloc, this ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ enables member states to trade up to 20 per cent more with each other than with non-members, at a 21 per cent lower cost, on average. Our research also shows that these countries invest up to 27 per cent more within the Commonwealth than outside of it – almost tripling investment levels five years ago, which stood at 10 per cent.

The potential benefits have not been lost on countries, even as we prepare to face a severe slowdown of the global economy brought on by COVID-19.

The slowing of the Chinese economy (a major trading partner), the decline in tourism and travel, as well as plunging oil prices will certainly cause economic strain to members. However, investment flows to sectors such as e-commerce, digital technologies, cybersecurity, healthcare and biotechnologies could shore up, as business migrates online, and countries race to find a vaccine and other medical treatments.

Strengthening the connectivity among our countries is therefore critical, so that trade flows remain resilient during times of crisis. Digital connectivity will be especially key, as the need to interact virtually now will transform the way people trade and do business. It is already a major area of focus for the Commonwealth, under its flagship Connectivity Agenda.

While being extremely watchful of the pandemic’s economic impacts, I am cautiously hopeful about the potential for intra-Commonwealth trade to act as a lifeline during the darkest of times. By leveraging the Commonwealth Advantage and robust policy responses, countries can bolster vital trade and investment flows, to eventually emerge at the end of the tunnel.

* Patricia Scotland is Commonwealth Secretary-General


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THE VACCINE OF PEACE; RETHINKING THE PANDEMIC OF VIOLENT CONFLICT
April 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Rev. Fr. Canice Chinyeaka Enyiaka, Ph.D*

Rev. Fr. Canice Chinyeaka Enyiaka

Without any military power, lobbying strategy, international diplomacy, disobedience to border crossing rules, or any form of coercion, COVID-19 has taken over the world stage in the last three months. From the local communities to the international stage, individuals, families, state and non-state actors are scrambling to contain, mitigate and confront a virus that disregards socioeconomic status, atomic and nuclear weapons of war as well as racial differential.

From Wuhan to Berlin, Washington DC to Paris, from Dublin to Abuja, Madrid to Soul, and from Rome to Cape Town, it is a similar story of deafening silence, pain, and confusion. We see a puzzling world that is now frozen and standstill because of a blind virus that doesn’t see the social status of who it visits. We must acknowledge that this invisible enemy has demonstrated that territorial and national borders are critical but cannot exclusively protect us. It has pressed on us that the logic of exclusion and disregard for human dignity as most proponents of nationalism and populism argue cannot secure the future we desire. It has shown us that guns and bombs are not able to protect as we have always thought.

COVID-19 has pushed peoples and nations to the edge, instilled fear, shaken the core of our position of strength. It has exposed our vulnerabilities and the emptiness of the powers we arrogate to ourselves as individuals, peoples, and nations. The virus calls us to rethink global peace and to flatten the curve of violent conflict that plagues the human family. The heroic action of healthcare workers, first responders, and others on the frontline who put their lives on the line across the World to save lives invite us to the basics of “humanity” and “humanness” as we face the present challenges. Without the grocery-store stockers, the healthcare workers, the farmworkers, the first responders, we would be in a more precarious situation by now. The virus has shredded what we call power and might literarily as kings and princes struggle for ventilators with the common man as 1, 475, 676 people are fighting for their lives today with 87, 469 recorded deaths globally.. The mighty now depend on poor farmworkers to have food on their table. We see nature’s comedy play out before us.

The impact of COVID-19 on the collective life of the global community without respecting the territorial integrity of sovereignties and total disregard of border closures remind us of our shared humanity. It reminds us in an unusual way though, that we are ‘one family under God’ irrespective of socially constructed notions of human differential which individuals and groups have used to perpetuate oppression, exploitation and divide over the centuries.  The virus is challenging the ideologies of extremism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism as it crosses all the lines they drew and have tenaciously protected.

 The global pain of the moment is a clarion call to act in solidarity and return to the power of the common good. It calls for the promotion of the underlying human security for all, and to eschew outright reductionist approach to national security to achieve real goals of solidarity and the common good. These times call for the application of the basic human security and solidarity that recognizes that the life of the child in the slums of Yemen is as important as that of the every other person across the globe. The lives of the persecuted Rohingya minority cannot be treated as tools for diplomatic gain.

 Mahbub ul Haq (1995) once said that the primary concern of human security is not to stockpile weapons. Instead, it is concerned with human dignity and how it is safeguarded and promoted. In the final analysis, it is about the child who did not die, diseases that did not go around, a strained ethnic relationship that did not erupt, another revolutionary and agitator who was not stopped, a human spirit that was not silenced. Provoked by the ethical concern for the use of resources in development, Mahbub ul Haq questioned governments giving priority of place to armament above the provision of milk for children. He points to the fact that human security issues in a most comprehensive manner are vital to achieving peace and human development as these issues fundamentally pose threats to the dignity of millions of people across the globe. Taylor notes that the above position has put human security at the center of the global discourse on peace. Safeguarding human dignity through solidarity and social security has become more imperative than ever. The global relationship should be guided by human dignity principles as dignity is the bright reflection and expression of every person.

 Last month, the UN Secretary-General said, “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”(Guterres, 2020) as he called for a ceasefire in the face of the pandemic. Many member states member states, as well as non-state actors and individuals, including Pope Francis, have endorsed his call for a cease-fire within this period. Parties to the conflict in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen have all accepted his appeal.

The cease-fire ought to continue beyond the pandemic, and a new paradigm of the ‘vaccine of peace’ should be applied to deal with the epidemic of ‘violent conflict’ across the globe going forward. The desire to amass weapons of war and the investment of commonwealth on military capabilities has grown among the governments of the global community. Military expenditure is given priority over fundamental human security issues in many countries of the world today. We seem to be more prepared for war than for peace, more willing to destroy life than to protect as many countries show a chaotic posture of unpreparedness in the face of coronavirus with stockpiled arms and weapons of war in place.

After World War 1(1914-1918), the global community lost more than 18 million lives. At least about 56 million people died during and immediately after World War 11(1939-1945). The theatrical flexing of muscle and senseless power-rivalry at the  inter and intra-state levels has led to millions of deaths in post-World War 11 regions of the globe even after the Nuremberg Tribunal with the concept of ‘never again.’ We continue to see the monstrous genocide and brutal destruction of human life ravaging communities of the World with the superpowers who championed never again supplying the arms and weapons of human destruction for economic gain. We destroy what we ought to protect, and we all become losers.

The folly, agony, and trauma of war extend to women and girls who are raped and sexually violated during conflicts. These women live with the emotional pain of sexual violation for the rest of their lives. Displacements, as we see across the globe today, come with the folly of war. Many children across the world have never experienced a peaceful childhood because every day, the noise of guns and bombs feel their ears, and some have been forced to be child soldiers with adverse effects that will stay very long with them. In different regions of the globe, people are maimed for life as a result of wars while others live in fear and insecurity with attendant hunger and starvation. Different countries are struggling to take care of individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder from war experiences. The folly of war is shown at the level of infrastructural destructions that will take decades to rebuild in many communities across the globe.

All  our attention is on the common enemy “COVID-19” .It is the common enemy  for Israeli and Palestinian; for Moslems and Christians in Nigeria; for  the Buddhists and Muslims in India, etc. and I agree but are we able to learn the lessons the moment is offering us.  I argue that a look at the human, economic, social, and environmental destruction caused by the act of war in the last two centuries will show that we are more dangerous enemies to ourselves than COVID-19.

Across the globe, healthcare workers and scientists are working hard to save lives and to find the vaccine for the cure of COVID-19. They are living and renewing the globalization of compassion and seeing everyone in the World as our brothers and sisters. It is the soul of solidarity and commitment to the common good. We have seen a great show of social solidarity and connection in our different communities across the world. COVID-19 which I think is an invitation to use the vaccine of peace to remedy the pandemic of violent conflict in our communities. It invites us to dialogue and proper allocation of resources.

We must remember that, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people”(Eisenhower, 1953). The above words speak us in these times and call for reexamination the use of global resources and the way we manage conflicts. Those words call for a change of paradigm. The paradigm shift ought to focus on engaging the human spirit and time honored values that can secure a peaceful and sustainable human family. It challenges us to properly place our priorities as a global community.

            War is the defeat of humanity and it degrades all of us. The vaccine of peace returns us to the infinite dignity of each human person and the recognition that we are embedded in webs of mutual obligation. It is time for world leaders to channel just a fraction of the resources spent on war and military arms towards peacebuilding. Guns and bombs have always failed humanity. It is contradictory and I should say not acceptable that we put all our resources to fight COVID-19 from killing people only to turn around tomorrow and kill ourselves at the battle field. The act of war is the real pandemic and it makes man wolf to man.  It is time to commit to applying the ‘vaccine of peace’ to cure the pandemics of violent conflict because “Peace is the only true direction of human progress – and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as the mainstay for a false civil order” (Paul VI, 1968).we are ‘one family under God’ and the path of peace is not impossible.

*Rev. Fr. Canice Chinyeaka Enyiaka, Ph.D. is Program Development Specialist, Interfaith/Community Outreach at the Global Peace Foundation

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Africa’s COVID-19 solution lies in information and not isolation-A look at Hubei vs New York
March 31, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ben Kazora*

  • The black death pandemic is estimated to have killed up to 60% of Europe which was an estimate of 450 million people in the 14th century.
  • Today a virus can travel first class on KLM to Africa and infect millions
  • In Taiwan, when an infected person leaves their home or turns the phone off the police and local authority will be alerted and the person will be visited within 15 minutes
  • The Co-100 app shares when the person tested positive, their nationality, gender and age.

Africa’s Advantage in the war with COVID-19

Interesting to note how the richer nations have been first to succumb to COVID-19 scourge. I believe this is primarily owed to the business and tourism between China and the west. Africa is benefited from late infections and has the advantage of lessons learned from the earlier victims and how the nations have dealt with it. Examining the Asian and European reactions to this pandemic Africa is primed to implement the best of both worlds. To this end, I firmly believe the critical soldiers in this unique battle against the pathogens, are the data scientists in concert with the healthcare workers armed with data. This approach in my view will save the continent millions of lives, jobs and the continents vulnerable economy.

Tale of two localities: Hubei & New York

With only 404 COVID-19 (0.07% of the population) cases Singapore has proven more adept at handling this pandemic than New York. Despite a greater distance from the epicenter (Hubei Province), New York has 2.3 times more cases compared to Singapore, relative to the population. With 81,281 cases out of 1.4 billion people it’s hard to deny that China got it right.
Hubei province with 60M people had 67,801 cases. This infection rate of 0.1% remain less than New York. Wuhan, the COVID-19 epicenter had about two-thirds of all China’s cases is about to lift the lead and resume life as normal. While the western world is grappling with this pandemic, it seems there are many lessons to learn from the east. Given the technological advancements of the west and advances in medicine I couldn’t help but wonder. First off let’s examine previous pandemics.

We have been down this road before

During the 14th to 19th century the world was dealt with the Black Death. This disease that was spread by body lice started in Italy and spread across Europe to France, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, and Scandinavia among others. This pandemic is estimated to have killed up to 60% of Europe which was an estimate of 450 million people in the 14th century.

Like COVID-19 today, the smallpox pandemic was equally class-blind killing the rich and poor alike. This plague is estimated to have decimated close to 30 million Mexicans by 1568 which was way before the arrival of Hernan Cortes. Despite the Spaniards having a superior army, the microscopic ally (smallpox) that Cortes army unwillingly brought from Europe helped take down the Aztec empire. This disease spread along trade routes in Asia, Africa, and Europe, eventually reaching the Americas. Smallpox is estimated to have killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone. It’s also estimate that fatality rate was 30% of those infected.

Wherever it began, the 1918 flu pandemic lasted just 15 months but was the deadliest disease outbreak in human history, killing between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide, according to the most widely cited analysis. The effect of the flu pandemic was so severe that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years.

It’s information not isolation

Clearly, without airplanes or cruise ships we have seen diseases spreading from east to west Europe and across continents. This means that closing our boarders isn’t the permanent solution. Germany took in about 50 Italian COVID-19 patients to help with the treatment. German’s gesture speaks to the power of collaboration and sharing of information that has proven to be the best weapon against these pathogen. Sweden has not closed its borders or its schools. Neither has it closed non-essential businesses or banned gatherings of more than two people, like the U.K. and Germany. Sweden has taken the unorthodox approach of simply informing and trusting the citizens.
Sweden’s 10 million strong population has reported 3,700 cases and only 110 deaths, while New York reports about ten times the rates of death and infections while population difference is only double. This phenomenon further shows that isolation isn’t the true solution.

Over the years we have seen doctors win the battle against the pathogens one time too many. The secret lies in the fact that while pathogens rely on blind mutations, the doctors have been armed with the powerful scientific analysis born of information. Third world countries have always struggled to deal with the likes of Ebola due to the non-data driven approach. This present danger posed by COVID-19 presents the third world a chance to examine novel ways of fighting pandemics and epidemics. I will term the information driven approach as the Asia approach.
We have seen time and again that the Asian nations of China, Singapore and Taiwan and others have proven more efficient at handling the pandemic. Africa political philosophies happen to be more aligned with those of Asia than those of the west. In a world where a virus can travel first class on KLM to Africa and infect millions, information becomes the only tool available to combat this. The US strongly adheres to privacy laws and that makes collection of pertinent data much more difficult. Perhaps, it’s time to examine the modification of these laws during such gruesome times. I imagine people are willing to temporarily trade privacy for life.

Data is the most lethal ammunition in this war

In Beijing, “Beijing Cares” app has been integrated into the permeating WeChat app. People under quarantine are made to input their daily temperature and health status into the app. When the isolation period is over, a “healthy status” page is generated, which users can flash at buildings and malls to gain entry. The Chinese government also releases details about patients’ travel history – via text messages on the mobile phone and state-managed websites – so the public can avoid places where the virus was once active.
South Korea took more aggressive steps by deploying a innovative system using data such as surveillance camera footage and credit card transactions of confirmed COVID-19 patients to recreate their movements. Max Kim of the MIT Technology review reported that the Ministry of the Interior and Safety using their Corona-100m (Co100) app, that allows those who have been ordered not to leave home to stay in contact with case workers and report on their progress. The app will also use GPS to keep track of their location to make sure they are not breaking their quarantine. Additionally, the app allows users to see how close they are to places that COVID-19 patients have visited before testing positive. As if that’s not enough, the app also shares when the person tested positive, their nationality, gender and age.

Taiwan went further to implement mobile phone electronic fencing. This location tracking platform ensures that those quarantined remain at home. The primary intent here is to ensure those infected aren’t running around spreading the virus. When one leaves their home or turns the phone off the police and local authority will be alerted and the person will be visited within 15 minutes. Officials also call twice a day to ensure the phone isn’t left at home by the infected person. Fact remains that the virus doesn’t travel from place to place but humans take the virus from one place to another.

Can we sacrifice our privacy to save our lives?

I know the mentioned slants would run afoul of privacy laws in the west. However, this is perhaps the most ideal time for African countries to come up with the Infection Protection Act akin to the German version being modified to deal with COVID-19. MTN group has close to 244 million subscribers while Vodacom has over 110 million. All together close to 750 million people in Africa have cellphones. The solution to the war with COVID-19 and future pandemics hinges on leveraging data and technology to complement the doctor’s efforts. The World Health Organization (WHO), Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said “the steps China took to fight the virus at its epicenter were a good way of stopping its spread.” African must act fast and swiftly. This is ultimately a sprint and not a marathon.

Remember that worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere. Instead adhere to the known protocols such as social distancing, washing hands often, cough into your elbows,stay home

* *The author is  co-founder of Limitless Software Solutions and can be reached via emails ben.kazora@limitlesssoftwares.com and bkazora@alumni.purdue.edu.


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Successful global epidemic responses put people at the centre
March 13, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS Executive Director

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 13, 2020,-/African Media Agency (AMA)/- The COVID-19 outbreak is rightly shining a light on international and national responses to health emergencies—exposing gaps in our systems, showing our strengths and drawing on the valuable experience of responding to other health threats, such as HIV. At UNAIDS, we know that people living with HIV will have some anxiety and questions about the emergence of the virus that causes COVID-19. One of the most important lessons to be drawn from the response to the HIV epidemic is to listen and learn from the people most affected. UNAIDS continues to do so.

It’s important to underline that there is currently no strong evidence that people living with HIV are at an especially increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or, that if they do contract it, they will experience a worse outcome. As in the general population, older people living with HIV or people living with HIV with heart or lung problems may be at a higher risk of getting the virus and of suffering more serious symptoms. As for the general population, people living with HIV should take all recommended preventive measures to minimize exposure and prevent infection. As COVID-19 continues to spread around the world, it will be important for ongoing research in settings with a high prevalence of HIV in the general population to shed more light on the biological and immunological interactions between HIV and the new coronavirus.

But legitimate measures to contain the virus may have unintended adverse effects on people living with HIV. When the COVID-19 outbreak began in China, UNAIDS conducted a survey of people living with HIV to listen to their needs. A follow-up study has shown that some people living with HIV are beginning to experience challenges in receiving medicine refills. This is leading to some anxiety. In response, UNAIDS has been working with networks of people living with HIV and government officials to support special deliveries of medicines to designated pick-up points. A hotline has been established in China so that people living with HIV can continue to express their concerns while the outbreak persists. With our partners, we will also be closely monitoring developments in global supply chains to ensure that essential medical supplies continue to reach the people who need them and that disruptions to the manufacture of active pharmaceutical ingredients are kept to a minimum.          

UNAIDS calls upon countries preparing their COVID-19 responses to ensure that people living with HIV have reliable access to their treatment medications. It’s now urgent that countries fully implement current HIV treatment guidelines from the World Health Organization for multimonth dispensing, ensuring that most people living with HIV are given three months or more of their medications. This will help to alleviate the burden on health facilities should COVID-19 arrive and allow people to maintain their treatment regimens uninterrupted without having to risk increased exposure to COVID-19 when retrieving their medicines.

A primary lesson from the AIDS response is that stigma and discrimination is not only wrong but counterproductive, both for an individual’s own health and for public health outcomes in general. That’s why UNAIDS has been supporting campaigns to reduce stigma and discrimination faced by people affected by COVID-19. We have never beaten a health threat through stigma and discrimination and our response to COVID-19 must be guided by lessons learned through the response to HIV. This includes listening to people affected by the outbreak and establishing trust and communication between people affected and health authorities, even before the disease burden rises.

Our biggest gains against HIV have come in countries that have reduced stigma and discrimination, encouraging people to test for the virus and to seek treatment if necessary. Using communication channels recommended by public health experts, let’s listen to people affected by COVID-19 and apply their lived experience so that we can strengthen our response to the virus.  

The deaths caused by the COVID-19 outbreak are tragic and my thoughts go out to their families and loved ones. But if we are smart, the international community and individual countries will use this experience to further strengthen monitoring systems and make adequate investments in health infrastructure, both at the global and national levels. UNAIDS urges governments and health officials across the world not to delay in implementing public education programmes for all their citizens about the practical measures that should be taken to curtail the transmission and spread of the virus at the local level.

A people-centred approach is critical. Everyone must have the right to health—it’s our best defence against global epidemics.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of the UNAIDS.

Source : African Media Agency (AMA)

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The U.S. is wronging Nigeria and the Energy Industry with Travel Ban
March 11, 2020 | 0 Comments

Tanzania and Nigeria, particularly, are named by Washington as having failed to meet U.S. security and information sharing standards

By NJ Ayuk*

NJ Ayuk

Including Nigeria in the U.S. travel ban is a political and economical mistake for Trump.

It is difficult to come to terms with the United States’ decision to include Nigeria in the extension he made a few weeks ago to the infamous “Muslim Travel Ban”, which already restricted movements of  people from Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Yemen. Alongside Nigeria, Tanzania, Myanmar, Eritrea, Sudan and Kyrgyzstan were also added to the list of countries with entry restrictions. Effectively, with the struck of a pen, or a whim, President Trump barred a quarter of the 1.2 billion people living in Africa from applying for residence in the United States.

Officially, the extension made to these nations is based on security concerns. Tanzania and Nigeria, particularly, are named by Washington as having failed to meet U.S. security and information sharing standards. Further, Nigeria is singled out for fears that the country harbors terrorists that could pose risks if they entered the U.S.

Much and more of this is difficult to reconcile with the U.S.-Nigeria long-standing allied relations and particularly with recent programs designed to bring the two nations closer together, but before we go there, let’s look at what the reality shows.

Since 1975, not a single incidence of a Nigerian, or for that case Tanzanian or Eritrean, being involved in a terrorist attack on American soil has been recorded. Boko Haram, the extremist group that has terrorized parts of the North of Nigeria (a region from which few migrants come from) in recent years, has never shown any signs of wanting to expand its territory, much less to open remote branches in North America. In fact, the American and Nigerian forces have worked closely together to address that and other challenges, and the Trump administration itself has recognized Nigeria as an “important strategic partner in the global fight against terrorism.”

Further, while Tanzanians and Eritreans have been excluded from what is known as the green card lottery system, Nigerians have been barred from applying for permanent residence visas in the United States. In 2018, 14 thousand such visas were issued to Nigerians, making it by far the most affected by the ban from all the new entrants to the list.

Beyond the sheer pain that fact must cause to the thousands of Nigerian families that have been waiting for years to be reunited in the U.S., from a security point of view, the decision makes no sense. Only permanent visas have been suspended. Tourist and work visas remain as usual. How does barring access to the most strict and difficult to obtain visas but maintaining the less restrictive short-term ones prevent terrorists from entering the U.S.? It is nonsensical. Even the fact that the announcement of the extension was made by the media before these countries’ authorities were even notified is telling of how lacking in protocol the process seems.

The whole thing is perplexing, but beyond the issues of principle, this decision has the potential to hurt the relations between these countries and the U.S., and when it comes to Nigeria, that risks hurting the U.S. too. Afterall, Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, is the U.S.’s second biggest trade partner in sub-Saharan Africa, is Nigeria’s second biggest export destination and is its the biggest source of foreign direct investment. American companies have extensive investments particularly in the energy and mining sectors in Nigeria, which risk being affected by a breakdown in bilateral relations. Some companies, like ExxonMobil, have been operating in the country for nearly 70 years, since even before the country became independent from colonial rule, and Chevron has also been an active and central participant in the country’s oil industry for over forty years. Both these companies are partners in Nigeria’s mid and long-term strategies to curb gas flaring, develop a gas economy, expand oil production, improve its infrastructure network, raise its people out of poverty, etc.

Nigeria and the U.S., under a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement, sustain an annual two-way trade of nearly USD$9 billion. When the president of the U.S. makes a decision like this, it can affect the relations the country and these companies uphold with Nigeria. Further, it directly clashes with the U.S.’s strategy to counter Russia’s and China’s growing influence in Africa by expanding its relations with the continent.

How does closing the door to Africa’s biggest powerhouse accomplish that?

The policy established under the 2019 Prosper Africa initiative, that was designed to double two-way trade between the U.S. and Africa, seems difficult to reconcile with this latest decision. Over the last couple of years, president Trump has made several statements, at varying levels of political correctness, about how he would like to restrict immigration to the U.S. to highly-skilled highly educated-workers. If that is one of the reasons behind the inclusion of Nigeria, again, it fails completely.

Nigerians represent the biggest African community in the U.S., numbering around 350 thousand, and one of the communities with the highest level of education in the US globally. According to the American Migration Policy Institute, 59% of Nigerian immigrants have at least a bachelor’s degree. That is higher than the South Korean community (56%), the Chinese community (51%), the British community (50%) or the German community (38%), and it is tremendously higher than the average for American born citizens (33%).

More than 50% of Nigerians working in the U.S. hold white color management positions, meaning they have access to considerable amounts of disposable income and contribute greatly to the American economy. Those are the immigrants the U.S. wants, the ones that built the American dream! Which only makes this decision ever harder to grasp, unless of course, if we consider that this might have nothing to do with security concerns, and all to do with a populist decision designed to please the president’s most conservative support base as we approach the presidential campaign. If that is the case, then American foreign policy has truly reached a dark age.

From his side, President Buhari’s government has done what is possible to appease the situation, setting up a committee to address the security concerns with U.S. officials and INTERPOL, and restating its commitment to “maintaining productive relations with the United States and its international allies especially on matters of global security”, Femi Adesina the Spokesman for the Nigerian Presidency said.

Last week, the Nigerian government requested the U.S. administration to remove the country from the travel ban, and also announced a reduction in visa application fees for visiting Americans from $180 to $160, in a symbolic gesture meant to reinforce relations between the two nations.

In the meantime, Nigeria’s and other economies risk suffering from this unexplainable decision, and immigrant Nigerians in the U.S. that had been waiting so patiently for the dream of being reunited with their families in the “land of the free” await a resolution for a problem they did not know existed until a month ago.

*NJ Ayuk is Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, CEO of pan-African corporate law conglomerate Centurion Law Group, and the author of several books about the oil and gas industry in Africa, including Billions at Play: The Future of African Energy and Doing Deals.

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#DecadeOfAction: a transformative shift in Zimbabwe’s development trajectory
February 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Georges van Montfort*

Amina J. Mohammed, the United Nations (UN) Deputy Secretary-General chatting with President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Sixth African Regional Forum on Sustainable Development in Victoria Falls yesterday.Photo Courtesy

This week, representatives of African governments, United Nations Agencies, civil society organisations, private sector, women groups, youth groups and other stakeholders converge in Victoria Falls for the sixth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development.  Organised annually, the forum provides an opportunity for African countries to advance the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063 through progress reviews; identification of challenges and opportunities, as well as peer learning on transformative solutions for sustainable development.

Across the region, many countries, Zimbabwe included, are currently preparing Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) in the spirit of renewed partnership for the SDGs. These reviews, to be presented at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July, are useful, primarily, for national dialogue and policy formulation, peer learning and strategic positioning of individual African states and the region as a whole.

Here in Zimbabwe, UNDP, together with other members of the United Nations system, are supporting the preparation of the first-ever national SDG Progress Report and the second VNR, to accurately and comprehensively reflect the status of SDGs implementation, highlighting the challenges faced and prospects for the future.  

The regional forum and the national review are timely for Zimbabwe as we begin the ‘Decade of Action’ – a decade to deliver a transformed and prosperous Africa. The forum comes at defining time in Zimbabwe’s development journey: at the tail end of the Transitional Stabilization Programme and the start of the preparation for the next National Development Strategy. There is, undoubtedly, a need to look back and learn useful lessons from the SDG implementation over the past five years, a period of difficult economic conditions but nonetheless un-matched resilience by Zimbabweans. It is important for the country to chart a new path for accelerating progress towards the SDGs.

At the continental level, there are great opportunities – Zimbabwe joining the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, and the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) to name a few. This latter holds much promise for the region and its people through promoting intra-regional commerce and boosting the region’s trading position on the global scene by strengthening the African voice within the multilateral trading system. However, Zimbabwe needs to ready itself for this trade openness and promote its export industries and import substitution to fully benefit from this progressive agreement. 

The promise of the SDGs – similar to the ambition of Zimbabwe’s Vision 2030 – requires a “business unusual” approach to development, a collective and concerted action of all and sundry. The goals are not about poverty reduction, they require poverty eradication, not about improving access to energy, but ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services etc. With only 10 years left to reach the goals, our ambition levels must exceed even that of our dreams. We may not reach all goals in all countries, but we should not fail for want of trying.

Zimbabwe is no exception to this: yes, we recognize the challenges, but those should not cloud our vision or dampen our ambition. This is what development is all about, and success will be possible when we all pull in the same direction to transform the opportunities into tangle benefits for the people, the economy and the environment.  The #DecadeOfAction must be a period of concerted and tangible action. Development will not occur by happenstance, and nothing should be left to chance. It is for this reason that I welcome the opportunity that the forum will accord Zimbabwe, being the host, to guide the design of the development of transformative strategies for accelerating progress towards the SDGs and Agenda 2063 in the country and the region as a whole. It is also my hope that the transformative strategies will be translated into action at the national level in Zimbabwe.

Over the next few days, the country has an opportunity to engage with her neighbours and peers from across the region and evolve strategies that deliver the promise of the SDGs – a promise of prosperity for the people in a peaceful environment in harmony with mother nature. UNDP is committed to accompanying the country in its the journey towards the SDG promise – amongst others – by supporting the preparation and implementation of the SDG-based National Development Strategy.

*Mr Georges van Montfort is the UNDP Resident Representative for Zimbabwe

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Leave Rwanda-Uganda matter to two Heads of State to decide
February 18, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Mohammed M. Mupenda*

Ugandan President Museveni and Paul Kagame of Rwanda pose for pictures after signing the MoU to imprvove relations between both countries in August 2019. Photo Credit East African
Ugandan President Museveni and Paul Kagame of Rwanda pose for pictures after signing the MoU to imprvove relations between both countries in August 2019. Photo Credit East African

There are dates you can hardly forget in the event which unfolded between the two countries, Rwanda-Uganda when their communique was made official, those are, an advisory note issued to advise Rwandans not to cross the border to Uganda, Luanda signing pact which never yielded the positive results and the release, deportation of Rwandans who were incarcerated in Uganda’s military cells.

These dates with their happening could always be abrupt to the citizens of both countries and some put a smile on them as they wait to see the outcomes of pact  but of course free movement to both citizens is paramount and they would mostly wish to see pact signed in Luanda being implemented as peaceful and diplomatic solution to the row that paralysed business, took peoples’ lives, separated family and friends and made life a misery to both countries’ ordinary citizens.

In the move of having the row ended, Uganda made a surprise towards early this year and released nine detainees who were considered political and accused of espionage to Uganda. This political move ignited various reactions on twitter, Facebook and in the local media. Some activists in Uganda protested the move by calling on Uganda’s government to avail justice to those who believed these people had committed crimes against humanity such as involvement in killing many Rwandans who had fled from Rwanda.

Self worth initiative, the non profit organisation headed by Ms. Prossy Bonabana executive director was the first to protest and others brought it on facebook and twitter supporting the move of which Rwanda citizens and officials including Minister of East African affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe rebuffed the protest and called it off saying that Ms. Prossy Bonabana  is serving Rwanda National Congress, the movement Rwanda calls a terrorist group headed by Former Rwanda chief of staff General Kayumba Nyamwasa who currently lives in South Africa.

Ms. Boonabana argued that some of these victims have their husbands, sons and relatives still incarcerated in Kigali safe houses without trial or prisons serving life sentences on politically motivated charges adding that many Rwandan refugees in Uganda have been living in fear.

“It was at the height of cries and quest for justice in 2017 that the relatives of victims took a leading role to voice out and condemn these aggressive activities by the Rwandan security agencies. These Rwandan agents had claimed the lives of many people and had pushed several others to live in constant fear,” she stressed.

Since 2017, the victims have eagerly waited for justice to finally prevail through court systems, only this week to receive a shock of their lives that the government was withdrawing criminal charges against the seven hardcore Rwandan intelligence agents. This, we strongly condemn as miscarriage of justice,” she said.

Despite of the move igniting mixed reactions, most of us, friends, analysts applauded it. And this is because, we were waiting to see the row that has put people’s lives at  risk get to an end.

According to Dr. Frederick Goloba-Mutebi, political scientist and an anthropologist, the decision to release them was political, in the interest of repairing relations. On those grounds alone, it was right. The tensions are not good for either country.

But also we have to establish whether the Government of Uganda withdrew charges or lost interest in the case. Whatever it did, however, raises questions about whether it had prima facie evidence against them or not, given they were in custody for 2 years or more.

They can sue, and that will be good, if they have grounds for doing so. It’s their right, if their rights were violated.

Rwanda Ambassador Frank Mugambage said it was (only) a step in the right direction. That suggests it is not enough.

While exchanging chats with friends and family advising them to go ahead to visit families, friends and transact business with Uganda since I knew the borders were opened, to many people, this was a dream which never came true when  Rwanda’s Head of State told the diplomats that he is not about to tell his citizens to return to uganda, because he has no control over their safety while there. 

Addressing more than 60 diplomats at the Presidency in Kigali on Wednesday evening, Kagame said there were still hundreds of Rwandans in Ugandan jails and that telling his people they were safe in Kampala would be a lie.

This perhaps gave the clearest hint on the progress of the efforts to resolve the dispute between Rwanda and Uganda, indicating the two countries are far from reaching a resolution.

Kagame told Rwandans “just stop going there because if you go there, I have no control. They may arrest you, and your families will come to me and say you have been arrested. And there is nothing I can do about it.”

He revealed that he and Museveni will be going back to Luanda, Angola soon to review the progress in implementing what was agreed in the first meeting in August last year clarifying that the issue is between him and Museveni. 

Note that ad hoc commissions failed to reach a solution after meeting in Kigali and Kampala and resolved to consult presidents

It is also said that what’s happening between the two countries is an issue between their two first families

The disappearance of ordinary citizens has not ceased to happen as Uganda citizens keep asking Uganda government about the citizens being killed while trying to cross the border and one of the Ugandan, Kigali based engineer who went missing end of last year.

It is a year now since Rwanda decided to close the Gatuna border with Uganda.

Second Luanda meeting resolutions which set 21st February for next meeting at Gatuna, and this gives hope to many that the border would be opened right away.

*Mohammed M. Mupenda is a news correspondent and freelance reporter, who has written for publications in the United States and abroad. He is also a French and East African language interpreter.

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Thanks President Trump for the Travel Ban on African Nations of Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, Tanzania, Nigeria and Chad
February 18, 2020 | 0 Comments

By Ben Kazora*

Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania- Cradle of Mankind

Questions to Ponder Upon

The origin of the name “Africa” stems from the words used by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. Key words include the Egyptian word, “Afru-ika” meaning motherland, the Greek word “aphrike meaning “without cold” as well as “aprica” a Latin word meaning Sunny. Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania holds evidence of the earliest human ancestors. One would venture to say that by extension we are all Tanzanians. Africa as you can already tell is a continent with a rich history, most beautiful cultures, highly educated populous just to mention a few. 25% of all the languages in the entire universe are spoken on this one continent as noted Jared Diamond in his 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Guns, Germs and Steel”.
 
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here” -Trump in January 2018. These remarks included some African countries. On January 31st, 2020 President Trump extended his travel ban to include Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania. It’s with this backdrop that I was tempted to delve a little deeper into what Africa’s potential really is and what it takes for her to realize it. Several questions come to mind; With a population of 1.3 billion why is Africa’s GDP merely $2.19 trillion while that of the USA is at a staggering $21.44 trillion? France, United Kingdom, India, Germany and Japan all have higher GDP than all of Africa. Why is Norway’s GDP per capita is $81,485 while that of Burundi’s is $310? Why is Norway 262 times richer than Burundi? Why does it take 24 African nations to aggregate $1 trillion in GDP, far more than any other region in the world? Why does it take 24 African nations to cumulative $1 trillion in GDP—far more than any other region of the world? Why does most of Europe has a single trade zone, the European Union while Africa has 16 trade zone? How come it takes 3 hours or less to reach European countries aggregating 70% of Europe’s GDP and 8 hours for Latin America but 15 hours for a comparable trip in Africa? Why does it cost less to ship a car from Paris to Lagos than from Accra to Lagos? I will proceed to explain my thoughts on how we got here and examine the best means to fully realize our potential. Acha Leke Saf and Yeboah-Amankwah in their Harvard Business Review article titled “ Africa: A Crucible of Creativity” highlighted that Africa has more than 400 companies whose revenue exceeds $1 billion dollars. Surely, Africa has all the precursors to be the world’s largest economy attain her deserving dignity.

Possible Explanation
National Geographic report suggested that in by 1850 Africa’s population would have been 50 million instead of 25 million, thanks to slavery. The report goes further to suggest that slavery contributed to the colonization and exploration of the continent. Furthermore, it’s suggested that as a result infrastructure and communities were damaged, and this made Africa vulnerable to colonialism. What was a huge loss to the continent the slaves actually provided a head start the slave traders. Had it not been for the slaves in America, the cost of building industry and agriculture would have been much higher therefore the standard of living would be much lower. Today’s western culture is a hybrid of that of Africa and the local customs. This ranges from food to music. While acknowledging impact of slavery on the continent it’s fair to highlight that the westerners didn’t settle in large numbers. However, they were successful in extracting the continents wealth first the human capital (through slavery) then diamonds, copper and rubber just to mention a few.
 
Today we see Africa hosting 60% of the world’s arable land that hasn’t been cultivated but still imports $35B worth f food annually. This figure is projected to increase to $110 billion by 2025 if nothing is done. Even more mind boggling is the fact that Africa export raw material out of the continent and turn around to import the same products processed. Africa is essentially contributing to her own poverty by exporting jobs in the process. A 2018 Africa Development Bank report noted that Brazil transformed it tropical Cerrados into a $54 billion food industry in just two decades. Certainly, this feat required innovative soil and crop management programs, new agriculture technologies just to mention a few. Africa’s Savannah is more than double that of Brazil and employing a few of the mentioned techniques will certainly make the continent a net exporter of agricultural products.
 
The challenge remains on of extractive nature of Africa’s political and economic systems. The World Economic Forum reports this is part of the reasons why the impact of foreign aid is never seen trickling down to most citizens. The aide in turn ends up being a tool to continue enslaving the citizens and at times eroding the continents culture and identity with the attached strings. In his book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” elucidated the tricks that are behind the so-called loans. Karen McVeigh’s article in The Guardian shared a sad finding that in 2015 Africa received $32 billion in loans but paid $18 billion in debt interest alone. As Perkins highlighted such loans aren’t structured with Africa’s interest in mind. This coupled with poor leadership means Africa finds herself in a perpetual race to end poverty. Political evolution is what is believed to differentiate the Africa from the West. The West has proven to host economic and political systems that allow for inclusion and equal opportunities. Botswana is a perfect example of effects of good governance. 50 years ago, Botswana was a very poor African country, today with a GDP per capita of $8,258 this African nation is richer than European nations of Bulgaria, Serbia Albania and Ukraine. This is primarily due to good governance and its handling of the natural resource (diamond) wealth. A good economic institution protects private property right, enforcements of contracts is predictable and controlled inflation.

Thabo Mbeki’s Report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa reports that for the past 50 years Africa lost over $1.2 to 1.4trillion dollars to illicit flows. This was equal to the financial assistance given to the continent in the same period. While these transactions are usually dismissed as a result of pure corruption, Mbeki’s report showed that 65% of these illicit flows were commercial transactions. Some of the means by which this is achieved is through trade mis-invoicing. Multinational corporations have used technics referred to as base erosion and profit shifting which are essentially forms tax evasion from high tax countries to low tax locations. Basically, multinationals decide how much profit to allocate to different parts of the same company operating in different countries, and then determine how much tax to pay to each government. Meanwhile, embezzlement and bribery constitute of only 3% of these illicit outflows. 
 
African countries have done a wonderful job building out modern road systems. However, only 33% of Africans live within 2 kilometers of a paved road that is usable all year round. The cost of travel within the continent is ungodly. Travel cost in Africa between five and eight times that of Brazil of Vietnam. The Economist reported that despite Africa being home to a fifth of the world’s population, the continent accounts for only 4% of the global electric use. About 70 percent of the population has no access to electricity.

Urbanization, a challenge and opportunities

McKinsey & Company notes that Africa’s development is directly correlated with urbanization. While this introduces infrastructural challenges in major cities, it also implies a growing consumer market. Between 2010 and 2020 there was a bigger growth in sales of food and beverages in Cairo than Brasilia and Delhi. This can be best captured in the facts that today; Nairobi’s per capita income is three times that of Kenya. Those who live in Lagos are now earning twice the amount of the nations average. In the oil rich nation of Angola, Luanda the capital city accounts for 45 percent of the nation’s consumption. While this is exciting for the consumer market, I am deeply concerned about the disincentives to grow new cities and in turn new economic frontiers. The right development policies need to be put in place so growth can be equally dispersed.

The Way Forward- the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA)

Africa is NOT resource poor by any means. As a matter of fact, Africa is the richest continent on earth. South Africa potential mineral wealth is estimated at about $2.5 trillion. If fully realized this would put South Africa ahead of Italy and Brazil as the 8th largest economy in the world right behind France. Simultaneously, Democratic Republic of the Congo’s mineral wealth is estimated to be worth $24 trillion. Congo doesn’t only have the potential to be the richest nation on the planet but richer than the European Union. Numerous other stunning finds exist about the potential of the continent. However, Africa must trade her way to her fullest potential. With a staggering population of 1.3 billion people, Africa is already her own market. So, Africa’s intra-trade is paramount.
 
The share of intra-Africa exports have increased over the years to about 17% presently. However, this is still very low compared to other regions. Europe is at 69% and Asia at 59%. The AfCFTA is believed to be the answer to most intra-Africa trade related issues. This agreement will certainly unlock the continent’s economic potential if properly executed. The mere removal of tariffs is expected to boost the continental intra-trade by $50 billion to $70 billion by the year 2040.
 
To enhance intra-trade a key impediment that needs to be removed is the tariff related costs. According to the Abuja treaty, all regional economic communities should have established a common external tariff within customs unions and fully functional free trade agreements by end of 2017. Clearly, this is yet to take place. The Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) has the lowest intra-regional trade. This region posts the lowest intra-regional trade in the continent and for this to change tariff should essentially be wiped away.
 
None tariff barriers also pose an equally challenging obstacle to intra-trading. These broadly include policies that reduce cost of transactions that stem from custom administrations, documents required, enhanced transport infrastructure. These policies are needed to reduce transaction costs as well as those that create an enabling environment for trade which include reduced bureaucracy and corruption.

Efforts Being Made

International companies such as Maersk, Imperial Logistics and a few others have played a key role in facilitating intercontinental trade. Between 2005 and 2016 the mentioned companies helped increase intra-Africa trade from $30billion to $64 billion.
Another industry that is playing a key role in connecting the continent is the airline industry. As of 2019 Ethiopia Airlines flies to 37 countries in Africa alone, leading the way. Royal Air Maroc, Air Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda Air are leading the continent in the economic integration efforts.

Conclusion
Africa may be lacking in hard power, but the continent should take control of her soft power. Very few countries have leveraged the power of impact of branding. Rarely do you hear that Mauritius GDP per capital is more than that of Bulgaria or that Equatorial Guinea is richer than Mexico. Yes, there is work to be done on the continent but it’s come a point where she must take control of her own narrative. Talent and capital are increasingly mobile and can have a huge impact on the economy. America isn’t just a nation but an idea. In 2018 about 23 million people applied for the green card lottery which is given to only 55,000 people a year. Very few of these millions try to make it to the US not because they have done a cost-benefit analysis of the key factors. The power of the American dream and the iconography of the Statue of Liberty mean something. They have value far beyond feel-good expressions of patriotism. They represent America as something for which to strive, as an expression of hopes and dreams for a better life, as a fulfillment of a quest for ultimate safety and prosperity and liberty. African nations need rebranding. I have seen images of Africa on CNN and Fox to almost always be of starving children begging for food. Rarely do we see CNN covering stories such as; the Ugandan inventor Brian Turyabagye has created a biomedical smart jacket that can diagnose pneumonia that is responsible for 16% of deaths of children under the age of 5. Square Kilometer Array (SKA) in South Africa which, once completed, is set to be world’s largest telescope that will allow us to see many times deeper into space. Nigeria’s Osh Agabi, has created a device that fuses live neurons from mice stem cells into a silicon chip-for the first time. The device can be used to detect explosives and cancer cells. These examples are endless. 
Africa indeed should take the travel bans as an opportunity to look inward and seek out her deep inner capabilities. The above issues highlighted aren’t difficult to resolve if African leaders place their hearts in the right place. With Africa’s median age of 19 the continent has the energy, human capital and vigor to allow the continent to realize her fullest potential of the biggest economy in the word. All precursors are present.

As we strive to realize Africa’s dream let’s not lose sight of the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. Let’s world know of the beauty of her poetry or the intelligence of our vibrant and rich public debates. The world ought to know more about the wit, courage, wisdom and compassion of Africans.

We must choose to make this goal our solemn mission. This decision should be made not because it’s easy but rather because it’s hard. It’s the continental collective effort that will organize her citizens and bring forth the best of her skills and energy. This is a challenge the continent must accept now and must be unwilling to postpone and one the continent must achieve. If now us, who? If not now, when?

* The author is  co-founder of Limitless Software Solutions and can be reached via emails ben.kazora@limitlesssoftwares.com and bkazora@alumni.purdue.edu. The views are his.Follow him on Facebook and LinkedIn , bkazora@alumni.purdue.edu


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