A shock to global oil prices leaves many African markets unprepared for more expensive import bills, while some crude producers may struggle to reap the benefits of higher oil export revenues. EXX Africa assesses the risk outlook for Africa’s largest oil producers and the continent’s main fuel importers.
The new government will have little time to celebrate a court ruling confirming its electoral victory earlier this year, as concerns mount over weak tax collections and rising debt servicing costs at a time of sluggish economic growth. The administration will also need to apply measures to protect its commercial assets like crude cargoes from seizure following a recent court ruling over a gas dispute.
The latest outbreak of anti-immigrant violence in South Africa has been unusual only because of its timing coinciding with a major investment conference and the potential political motivations behind the attacks on foreigners. EXX Africa investigates the political and economic drivers of such violence, as well as the commercial impact of retaliatory action against South African interests elsewhere in Africa.
With 54 countries and a continental coastline of 30,500 km that spans the Mediterranean sea in the north, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the northeast, the Indian Ocean in the east, and the Atlantic Ocean in the west, Africa’s borders are both numerous and vulnerable. EXX Africa delves into the primary threat actors taking advantage of these vulnerabilities to further their own objectives across the continent. The report will be submitted the United Nations General Assembly this month and is pre-released to our clients ahead of the publication.
EXX Africa takes a closer look at the idiosyncrasies of some of the prominent internet shutdowns on the continent over the last year, exploring the causes and consequences of this repressive technological tactic.
The use of internet shutdowns by African governments to suppress popular dissent is becoming increasingly common. So far in 2019, there have already been reports of internet shutdowns in at least 12 countries. The states most affected usually have few internet providers, which makes it easier to implement a ban. Although such shutdowns may be contrary to local law, they are often detrimentally effective before they can be challenged in court. Furthermore, there is a lack of a binding international legal framework to hinder governments from acting with impunity.
These partial or near-total internet blackouts are most often implemented in anticipation, or in the wake, of anti-government protests, particularly around elections. However, governments also use targeted blocking of certain websites to restrict access to specific information during critical periods, such as national examinations. We explore some recent case studies from the past 12 months in this latest briefing. We also examine the impact such shutdowns have on commercial operations and the wider economy in African countries.
This briefing follows on from EXX Africa’s special report published at the beginning of the year and updates the key forecasts established in that report (See SPECIAL REPORT: THE COST OF INTERNET SHUTDOWNS IN AFRICA).
Sudan: Prolonged shutdowns to control unrest
Internet blackouts have become a staple during the past 12 months in Sudan, particularly from December to April as protesters took to the streets to oust former president Omar Al Bashir from power. During this period, the government intermittently blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Whatsapp. However, it was the near-total shutdown instituted in June until July, following particularly violent unrest in the capital, which garnered the most attention (See SUDAN: HARD-LINE DARFURI MILITIA SEIZE CONTROL OF THE CAPITAL).
On 3 June, the Sudanese Transition Military Council ordered a partial internet shutdown amidst reported paramilitary attacks on pro-democracy demonstrators in Khartoum, during which an estimated 100 people were killed. To begin with, the ban targeted mobile networks before escalating to encompass fixed-line connections on 6 June. From 6 June to 9 July, a near-complete blackout was implemented, cutting the population off from the outside world. According to NetBlocks, a web freedom group, the internet disruptions under the rule of the Council were “more severe” than those imposed under Al Bashir at the time.
The Council’s actions contributed to significant condemnation from local and international watchdogs, in turn spurring social media campaigns. For example, throughout June, international social media campaigns, #BlueForSudan and #IAmTheSudanRevolution, were launched in an attempt to gain attention for the massacres and censorship being perpetrated in Sudan.
Locally, a lawyer, Abdel-Adheem Hassan, challenged the shutdown in court. On 23 June, Hassan was successful in ordering his telecoms operator, Zain Sudan, to restore connectivity. Yet, while his win was widely publicised and celebrated in the belief that the internet would be restored countrywide the next day, the operator only restored connection to his personal line.
According to Human Rights Watch, the near-total blackout in Sudan resulted in “wide-ranging harm”. Notably, it prevented activists and residents from reporting critical information regarding paramilitary forces, who were responsible for the attacks in Khartoum and previously for violent campaigns in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Medical professionals further added that it made it difficult to organise ways to provide care.
The internet was only fully restored on 9 July after a further court challenge and a formal denouncement of the shutdown by the UN.
Chad: The longest night
Although Chad has a very low internet penetration rate – with only 6.5 percent of the population reported as having access to the internet as of 2017 – the country was recently subjected to the longest-running internet blackout on the continent. In March 2018, President Idriss Déby announced a partial internet block that affected major sites including WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook, as he prepared to amend the constitution to remain in office until 2033. Sixteen months later, the ban was lifted on 13 July 2019 (See CHAD: CREATING A DE FACTO MONARCHY AMID MULTIPLE CHALLENGES TO POLITICAL STABILITY).
According to the government, the ban was implemented for security concerns over terrorism threats. While this justification was challenged in local courts, all appeals were ultimately unsuccessful. The government only lifted the ban following a sustained international campaign, led by Internet without Borders, which included diplomatic pressure, protest action, as well as the sponsorship of VPN access for Chadians.
Long-term social media blackouts are common in Chad. Previously, in 2017, the government cut connections for ten months following controversial elections. These long periods of internet blackouts have severe economic consequences for the already impoverished country. According to the ‘Cost of Shutdown Tool’ by NetBlocks, the 2017 blackout cost the government an estimated USD 163 million. It is estimated that the most recent blackout cost upwards of USD 253 million.
Moreover, during the blackout, the country’s largest ISP, Millicom, a Swedish telecommunications company, was subject to substantial adverse media in Sweden regarding the company’s alleged failure to honour its UN commitments to protect free expression. In the early days of the blackout, the company claimed that the outage was due to technical problems before later admitting that the government had ordered the blackout. In June 2019, Millicom completed the sale of its operations in Chad to Maroc Telecom, a Moroccan telecommunication company. Although part of wider strategic disinvestment from Africa, Millicom’s withdrawal was likely impacted by the reputational damage it faced following the Chad blackout.
Mauritania: Internet shutdowns and propaganda campaigns
Mauritania held its presidential elections on 22 June. When violent protests broke out on 23 and 24 June in the capital Nouakchott, challenging the initial election results, the government moved to disrupt the internet before instituting a near-complete ban on both mobile data and fixed-line connections by 25 June. All of Mauritania’s consumer ISPs – Mauritel, Chinguitel, and Mattel – were impacted by the government’s decision.
By suppressing social and news media, the government was able to provide its own account of the protests through a false propaganda campaign. On 26 June, the state television broadcaster paraded a group of foreign nationals who alleged to take full responsibility for the protests. Only after the internet services were fully restored on 3 July did a more accurate picture of the post-election situation emerge.
Contrary to state propaganda, a number of Mauritanian political activists were reported to have been arrested for participating in the protests. Moreover, it was revealed that during the blackout, the state had detained two prominent journalists without charges. Lastly, once connectivity had resumed, delayed reports of civil unrest in the immediate aftermath of the elections from outlying rural areas began to emerge (See MAURITANIA: NATURAL GAS AND MINING BONANZA WILL MITIGATE INVESTMENT RISKS).
Ethiopia and Somalia: Shutdowns for exams
Internet shutdowns are not always instituted for political reasons. In Ethiopia and Somalia, they have also been implemented during national exams to prevent cheating. While internet access is occasionally restored in the evenings during these periods, the impact of such shutdowns is significant. According to Netblocks, a one-day shutdown of the internet costs Ethiopia at least USD 4.5 million and has a long-term impact on investor confidence in the host country.
The latter is particularly true in the case of Ethiopia as newly elected Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has sought to privatise the national telecommunications provider, Ethio Telecom. Nevertheless, while such government interference is likely to concern potential investors, the anticipated establishment of an independent regulator is expected to provide appropriate checks and balances (See
Countries to watch
Protests in Zimbabwe have also been met with internet shutdowns in recent months. In January 2019, for example, the government imposed a “total internet shutdown” amid violent protests against a dramatic fuel price increase. Access to the internet and social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp were intermittently blocked as the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, sent customers text messages relaying the government’s orders and calling the situation “beyond our reasonable control”. As the situation has continued to decline over the past few months, with reports of load shedding of up to 16 hours a day, food shortages, and the outlawing of anti-government protests, further unrest and associated internet clampdowns are expected.
Tunisia is scheduled to hold the first round of its presidential elections on 15 September 2019. The country has enjoyed relatively free access to the internet since widespread blackouts during the Arab Spring in 2011. After transitioning into a democracy, a key test for the budding democracy will be whether or not these elections are free and fair. Any internet shutdowns during the election season, which the government would likely justify by appealing to the threat of terrorism, will instead be an indication of the state’s democratic integrity.
Burundi is expected to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in May and June 2020. In 2015, as President Pierre Nkurunziza, sought to seek a third term ahead of the country’s elections, messaging services including Facebook, Whatsapp,Twitter, and Tango were shutdown. Actions by the government since then have further pointed to little tolerance for media freedom. In March 2019, for example, the government renewed its suspension of Voice of America and withdrew the BBC’s operating license. As such, it is highly likely that next year’s elections will be accompanied by an internet shutdown and near-total blackout.
Tanzania is expected to hold multiple elections in 2020, including presidential and parliamentary votes. With current President John Magufuli having cracked down on online media over the last year (See EXX Africa Special Report: The Cost of Internet Shutdowns in Africa) it is likely that he may move to control messaging ahead of and during the elections by implementing partial bans on the internet and removal of anti-government sites. Indeed, during an August 2017 meeting with leaders from China, the Tanzanian Deputy Communications Minister praised his counterpart for blocking social media platforms and replacing them with “homegrown sites that are safe, constructive and popular”.
Each case of those in power using internet blackouts to control information, and therefore people, has its particularities. However, one constant in all of these cases is the economic impact of the blackouts at both a macro- and micro-economic level. Decreased productivity, lack of email communication, disruption to online sales, decreased online advertising; these are a few examples of the consequences of internet shutdowns for commercial entities. At a national level, a recent Global Network Initiative report indicates that the loss of internet connectivity has a pronounced effect on a country’s daily GDP. The report estimates that an average high-connectivity country stands to lose at least 1.9 percent of its daily GDP for each day of a total internet shutdown. For an average medium-level connectivity country, the loss is estimated at one percent of daily GDP, and for an average low-connectivity country, the loss is estimated at 0.4 percent of daily GDP.
Activist groups like NetBlocks and Global Network Initiative are creating awareness of both the prevalence of internet shutdowns around the world and their associated economic impact. This awareness is vital for the media, NGOs, and international organisations to try to combat the increased use of shutdowns across the African continent. Indeed, internet access and the guarding against the abuse of it by those in power are fast becoming a key frontier for the protection of international human rights. However, the fight against the abuse of freedom of expression is expected to be prolonged in Africa, as more and more leaders are turning to this form of control to suppress dissent and manipulate access to information. In the interim, businesses and the wider economy are expected to bear the brunt of these decisions.
SEE COUNTRY OUTLOOK: ALL COUNTRIES
The incoming government is not expected to deviate from the strong naira and directed credit policy, although there is a better chance of widespread oil sector reform being implemented to plug Nigeria’s gaping budget deficit. There is no indication that the new government will act fast to implement measures for continental free trade or deal with the country’s myriad security crises.
A lack of demand for intra-regional formal trade in West Africa may prove the most serious challenge for the single currency’s eventual launch and success. Unlike the Eurozone in the 1990s, West African economies are geared towards exporting to western or Asian markets, rather than its neighbours. Few West African countries are likely to meet all currency convergence criteria over the next year, while most CFA countries will be reluctant to replace their stable monetary regime with the messy managed float of the Nigerian naira.
Over the past year, the rapid encroachment of Sahel-based Islamist militant groups on the borders of West African coastal states has prompted widespread concern that previously unaffected locales are now under threat. Based on the geographic dispersal of regional militant actors and their current capabilities and intent, EXX Africa assesses the possible scenarios and likely locations for a terrorist attack in these coastal hubs.
Since 2015, a rapid expansion of Islamist militant activity in West Africa and the Sahel has corresponded with an unprecedented level of violence across the region. In particular, high-impact terrorist attacks in major urban centres in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire have become more frequent, pointing to both an increased capability and reach on the part of regional militant organisations. As the violence encroaches on the borders of West African coastal states, concerns abound that the terrorist threat may spill-over into these previously unaffected locales.
The Primary Threat Actors
Who they are and where they operate
With the exception of Nigeria, no militant groups have demonstrated a significant operational presence in West African coastal states. However, since 2015, the number and geographic distribution of Islamist militant groups operating in West Africa and the Sahel region have increased at a rapid pace, extending the risk to these regions.
The primary hub of militant activity in the Sahel stretches from north-eastern Mali and western Niger, to south-eastern Burkina Faso, encompassing the border areas between the three states. Groups operating here include the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), and an Islamist militant coalition, Jama’at Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM). JNIM includes several regional groups, including Ansar Dine, the Sahara-based branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Al Mourabitoun (See MALI: UNRELENTING SOUTHWARD EXPANSION OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY IN THE SAHEL).
Despite numerous international counter-terrorism efforts, militants in the Sahel have intensified their activities over the past five years. The number of militancy-related violent incidents across the region reached a peak in 2018, when 465 incidents were recorded, compared to 90 in 2016. In addition, French and UN military operations in Mali have pushed many militants beyond their established areas of operation in the north-east of the country, into previously unaffected areas. For instance, 2018 saw a surge of militant attacks connected to both JNIM and ISGS in south-eastern Burkina Faso, in close proximity to the country’s borders with Ghana, Benin, and Togo (See BURKINA FASO: COUNTERING THE SPREAD OF ISLAMIST MILITANCY).
A second regional hub of militant activity is in north-eastern Nigeria, and the border areas between Niger, Chad, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The primary groups operating in this region are Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP). Boko Haram and ISWAP’s activities remain focused on north-eastern Nigeria and across its border, where they are conducting an insurgency against the Nigerian military. However, Boko Haram has previously threatened to enter into northern Benin through its porous north-eastern border with Nigeria although thus far there have been no incidents in Benin associated with the group (See SPECIAL REPORT: THE RETURN OF BOKO HARAM IN AND BEYOND NIGERIA?).
Militant groups operating in West Africa and the Sahel have varying degrees of capability. The majority of attacks orchestrated by these groups occur in outlying areas where they either conduct direct assaults on villages and pastoral camps during which they kill high numbers of civilians and loot as many goods as possible, or conduct raids or improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against army positions and patrols.
However, several groups have also demonstrated the capability to conduct complex coordinated assaults in regional urban hubs. For example, on 2 March 2018 JNIM conducted an attack in Ougoudougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, simultaneously targeting the Burkinabe national army headquarters, the French Embassy, and the French Institute, killing 30 people. Such attacks have included the use of suicide vests and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) (See BURKINA FASO: SIDELINED SECURITY SERVICES SEEK COLLABORATION WITH ARMED MILITANTS).
This increase in the geographic spread, as well as the volume and intensity of violence in the past two years, is in large part a product of greater cooperation and coordination between regional militant groups which has facilitated the formation of militant coalitions. In addition, the capability of militant groups to conduct operations across national borders has been bolstered through close connections to regional criminal activity, including the smuggling of arms and ammunition.
Attacks in West African urban centres remain driven in large part by resistance to foreign military intervention in Mali, especially ongoing French counter-terrorism operations. Islamist groups in the Sahel have also proclaimed their intent to carry out attacks on targets linked to those countries participating in the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This includes most states in the West Africa and the Sahel region, as well as a high number of Western countries. Correspondingly, the vast majority of militant attacks across the region have targeted international and local forces engaged in peacekeeping and counter-insurgency operations.
However, attacks in major urban centres have overwhelmingly targeted sites associated with the presence of high numbers of Western civilians, such as popular restaurants and hotels, as well as embassies. Areas where French nationals routinely congregate, including French government and military facilities, are especially likely to be targeted in such attacks. However, all Westerners are ostensibly under threat, as indicated by previous attacks on sites where large numbers of foreign nationals from a variety of Western states are present. While no attacks have yet taken place in West Africa against large malls or shopping complexes, these are also likely to constitute primary targets due to the typically high number of Western expats frequenting such locations.
Anatomy of a militant attack
Taking into account the historical modus operandi of militant groups in West Africa, as well as their current capabilities, the most likely form of attack in any of the large urban centres in West African coastal states is an assault by multiple gunmen on a prominent restaurant, hotel, foreign embassy, beach resort, or shopping complex.
Most previous attacks have involved groups of between two and ten attackers armed with assault rifles and wearing suicide vests. In some cases, assailants wore the official uniforms of state security forces, both delaying the reaction of victims in the target area, as well as complicating efforts by first responders to positively identify threats. As demonstrated in Burkina Faso in March 2018, such an attack may also consist of multiple groups of gunmen targeting disparate locations simultaneously.
In a number of major attacks in urban centres in Mali and Burkina Faso, militants have also employed IEDs/VBIEDs as precursors to an assault by multiple gunmen. In some instances, IEDs/VBIEDs employed against secondary targets have also been used to draw the attention of security forces and emergency services away from the primary site of an assault, increasing the overall lethality of an attack. However, with limited presence in the West African coastal states, militants are less likely to be able to manufacture or transport VBIEDs as easily as in the Sahel.
Top Ten West African Cities at Risk
|2||San Pedro||Cote d’Ivoire|
(1) Abidjan and (2) San Pedro (Côte d’Ivoire)
One previous terrorist attack has been recorded in Cote d’Ivoire: On 13 March 2016, three gunmen carried out an attack on a beach hotel in Grande-Bassam (30km east of Abidjan), killing 19 people (See AL-QAEDA ATTACKS COTE D’IVOIRE). AQIM and Al Mourabitoun jointly claimed responsibility for the attack. Côte d’Ivoire has since increased internal security measures in urban centres, including a greater police presence around vulnerable sites such as prominent hotels. Nonetheless, due to Côte d’Ivoire’s role as a close security partner of France and host to a French military base, militant groups retain a high intent to target the country. Indicative of this, on 8 November 2018, Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Ansar Dine, called for attacks against Côte d’Ivoire specifically. One month later, on 6 December 2018, security forces in Mali reportedly apprehended a militant cell which was planning to conduct an attack in Côte d’Ivoire, targeting New Year’s celebrations (See COTE D’IVOIRE: NEW YEAR’S EVE TERROR PLOT INDICATES RISING THREAT OF JIHADISM).
(3) Cotonou and (4) Porto Novo (Benin)
Benin shares over 2,000km with four countries, three of which (Burkina Faso, Niger, and Nigeria) host the above militant groups. In particular, reports of cross-border militant activity in southern Burkina Faso have increased over the past two years, with local residents in northern Benin alleging that Islamist fighters have visited their communities periodically. In early 2019, several incidents indicated a possible escalation of militant activity in the border region. Notably, in May 2019, two French tourists were kidnapped in the Pendjari National Park in northern Benin. While no group claimed responsibility, the victims were rescued days later in a French military operation in northern Burkina Faso, suggesting that militants were involved (See BENIN: POLITICAL UPHEAVAL AND ISLAMIST MILITANCY WILL NOT DERAIL ECONOMIC SUCCESS). In addition, there is some evidence that terrorist cells are present in Benin; in May 2018, 42 people were arrested during counter-terrorism operations. Militant intent to target the coastal country is likely to stem from Benin’s contribution to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso. Benin was also one of the countries specifically mentioned in Ag Ghali’s video last year.
(5) Lomé (Togo)
As with Benin, over the past year Togo has seen an increasing amount of militant activity on the country’s northern border with Burkina Faso. In April 2018, authorities reported that more than 20 militants had entered the country from Burkina Faso, bringing with them notable sums of cash. Thereafter, in response to the growing threat on their borders, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Ghana conducted a joint security operation in May 2018 in which over 200 people were arrested, many of which on terrorism charges. Additionally, in February 2019, five people, including a Spanish priest, were reportedly killed by Islamist militants during two separate attacks on the border between Togo and Burkina Faso. Togo is also a major contributor to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso, driving intent to target the country. The security response to the threat by the government has focused on increasing military operations in the porous border area, which is likely to have a limited impact on mitigating the risk of an attack in Lomé.
(6) Dakar and (7) St. Louis (Senegal)
Senegal remains one of the foremost contributors to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso, and as such constitutes a potential target for regional militant organisations. Senegal is also a military partner to France and hosts a French military presence at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar. Direct intent to target the state is also evident, as Senegal was one of the countries mentioned in Ag Ghali’s video last year. Militant cells have been previously dismantled in both St. Louis and Dakar, both of which host high numbers of Western expatriates. Most recently, in July 2018 a Senegalese court sentenced 14 people to prison on charges of belonging to AQIM and Boko Haram. However, since 2016 Senegal has significantly bolstered security measures in major urban centres, including the provision of additional protection for international airports, prominent hotels, and popular tourist sites. While these measures have not been applied consistently, it is likely that they will constrain the ability of militants to carry out attacks in either city (See TERROR THREAT IN DAKAR, SENEGAL).
(8) Accra and (9) Sekondi-Takoradi (Ghana)
As with Benin and Togo, Ghana’s northern border is under threat from militants operating in southern Burkina Faso. Over the past year, Ghanaian security forces have implemented measures to address possible threats, including joint border security operations with neighbouring countries and renewed counter-terrorism training for the Ghanaian police. However, in May 2018, 13 people were arrested in Ghana on terrorism charges, suggesting that militant networks are already operating within the country. Both Accra and Sekondi-Takoradi host a high number of Western tourists and residents, providing a range of target opportunities for militant groups. Intent to target Ghana derives primarily from the country’s ongoing contribution to the UN MINUSMA operation in Mali/Burkina Faso. The country was also specifically named in Ag Ghali’s video last year (See GHANA: TERRORISM THREAT RESURFACES AS ISLAMIST MILITANCY GAINS A FOOTHOLD). The port of Tema has also faced numerous attack scares over the past year, although the viability of such reports has often been questionable and more likely derived from organised crime (See GHANA: SUSPECTED TERRORISM SCARE TO DRIVE DISRUPTION IN TEMA PORT AREA).
(10) Lagos (Nigeria)
While militant activity has focused on the north-east of the country, Boko Haram’s presence extends to Nigeria’s commercial capital. Since 2015, Nigerian security forces have reported multiple police raids targeting Boko Haram militants in the city. Most recently, in December 2018 a prominent Boko Haram leader reportedly responsible for planning several major bombings in the capital, Abuja, was arrested in Lagos. Nonetheless, only one militant attack has taken place in Lagos in the past five years, and it remains likely that Boko Haram will continue to focus the bulk of its efforts further inland and across the border into Niger and Chad. Attacks targeting Western foreign nationals are more likely to take place in Abuja, where multiple IED/VBIED attacks have taken place since 2011 (See NIGERIA: ISLAMIST MILITANTS PREPARE NEW OFFENSIVE TO CAPTURE TERRITORY IN NORTHEAST).
In President Buhari’s second term, the government will continue to prop up the local currency and maintain costly subsidies, policies which have fostered massive fraud and embezzlement and undermined economic recovery. As the budget deficit widens, debt servicing spikes, and some banks again face non-performing loans, there are growing concerns that Nigeria may be running into ‘bankruptcy’. However, oil sector state asset sell-offs might be sufficient, at least in the short term, to stave off another recession or liquidity crisis.
In his second term, President Muhammadu Buhari will again oversee expansive debt-fuelled spending to develop Nigeria’s infrastructure, while seeking a dilution of the government’s stake in the oil sector. He may even consider joining Africa’s free trade pact that came into force in May. However, any firm decisions will take many months before being confirmed, starting with the appointment of a new cabinet and perhaps a reshuffle of the security forces command.
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