Commentary

When Nationalism Comes Knocking (Part 2)

See Part 1 here

If the economic argument for protectionism does not make sense, it seems like Tanzania’s latest anti-regional decisions are based on nothing more but good old nationalism.

Tanzania has a long (positive) history with nationalism since its first legendary president Julius Nyerere put a lot of effort in uniting the nation after independence: by pushing for Kiswahili as a uniting language for all tribes (there are more than 120 languages spoken in Tanzania), but also by pursuing a relatively closed socialist economic model. An initial attempt to create a united East Africa failed in 1977 also because Tanzania felt it was not getting the best deal out of it and nationalist sentiments (in most EAC countries to be fair) destroyed the regional spirit.

Whilst nationalism was definitely beneficial and a good idea after decolonization to avoid ethnic tensions that wrecked so many other young African states, it seems to make much less sense nowadays. Yet, it is highly in fashion: besides the anti-EAC decisions Tanzania’s Minister of Finance has announced to plan the next budget without donor money (without mentioning how to close that gap) after partners have withheld funds over a corruption scandal and announced steps to fight against the use of the US Dollar in domestic transactions (without addressing the reasons for the Shilling’s instability). The only one really profiting from this wave of nationalist policies is the ruling CCM party, as elections are coming up in fall and a nationalist platform tends to pay-off at the polls.

Here is where the actual problem lies. Tanzanians will vote in favour of anti-Kenyan policies and could not care less about the EAC. There is no party that is actually actively campaigning with a pro-regionalism stance. While the public and private sector are trying to progress integration on the technocratic level and President Kikwete speaks in favor of the EAC at regional gatherings, I doubt that any CCM politician will even mention the Community in a speech in front of the “Wananchi” (the ordinary people) – the EAC is not a vote catcher.

Many Tanzanians have never even heard about the EAC, let alone understand what their people actually do besides living in nice houses and driving big cars (a motorbike-taxi driver found it hilarious that I work at the EAC, but am still riding along on his bike). Though, this is understandable.

Besides businessmen or people in border areas that might do some trading, the East African Community does not affect their life at all. Their socio-economic situation does not allow trips to neighbouring countries and EAC regulations have not really reached the daily life yet, as they do in the EU. I can only really speak about the situation in Tanzania, but I assume that this issue looks similar in the other four Partner States. You might realize now that I had left out “the people” when I listed all stakeholders in the beginning that are keen on regional integration on the African continent.

Presidents Museveni (Uganda), Moi (Kenya) and Mkapa (Tanzania) at the launch of the EAC in 1999. (Source: EAC website)

AND WHEREAS in 1977 the Treaty for East African Co-operation establishing the East African Community was officially dissolved, the main reasons contributing to the collapse of the East African Community being lack of strong political will, lack of strong participation of the private sector and civil society in the co-operation activities…”, Preamble of the EAC Treaty 1999.

Ironically, the EAC sees itself as a “people-centered” union: A term that also we at GIZ gladly put in the reports about our work. Seeing that, we should not be surprised about the nationalist sentiments, but about such misconceptions created by the bubble that we work in. I don’t want to say that our project has not realized this shortcoming.

In fact, the opposite is true: One module focuses on improving the communication strategy of the EAC Secretariat and another one works on integrating the civil society in the EAC processes. However, the latest examples support my impression from talking to regular Tanzanians that we are still god-damn far away from making regional integration in Africa a truly people-centered project. While the EAC’s benefits are already indirectly felt by most citizens, the project planning and execution itself is carried and informed almost entirely by elites.

If you complain about the EU being detached from the citizens, you’ll feel better after a look at the EAC.

In a Community of five democracies in which politicians will try to appeal to voters, it is dangerous if the people are utterly unaware of the possibilities of opening up and uniting on a regional level: The results are noticeable in Tanzanian politics at the moment.

I can only hope that governments and development partners step up their efforts on bringing the regional integration project closer to the people and begin to work on creating a deeper East African identity. Looking back at my own case and seeing what has made me the European that I feel I am today, is that I studied abroad. Many have said that after decades of European elitism, finally the first generation is taking over that has adopted a true European identity partly created by the pan-European Erasmus exchange program.

Recently, German President Gauck visited Tanzania and gave a speech at the EAC Secretariat. At one point, he spoke about issues of identity and suggested that the EAC should think about introducing their own version of the Erasmus program. I think that is a great idea and maybe in 30 years I will be able to meet Tanzanians who feel as estranged by nationalism as I do now.

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Commentary

When Nationalism Comes Knocking (Part 1)

I like the European Union. I enjoyed studying abroad, I appreciate not having to go to a Forex when I travel from Berlin to Rome, I am able to buy affordable duty-free yummy French Camembert in Germany and I like that I have the opportunity to apply for jobs anywhere around the EU without thinking about permits, visas or the like.

Of course, I know that nationalism has seen a revival in Europe.

I have watched the news and seen Front National growing strong in France or Islamophobic ‘Patriots’ marching in the streets of Dresden every Monday night. Yet even among those die-hard critics of the EU there is consensus that at least the economic integration process (let’s not include the single currency here) of Europe has been beneficial to all Member States and to the large majority of their citizens (Greeks might disagree).

To me this has always been a hard fact and even one that can be generalized to other areas of the world: regional economic integration will pay-off.

In fact, it is one of the few projects for economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa on which almost all politicians, donors, businesses, civil society actors of different camps can agree easily. African Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are praised by the African Union for healing the scars of arbitrary colonialist borders, supporting local business development, fostering cultural exchange, supporting intra-African trade and other wonders. The latest African Development Report by the African Development Bank presents the arguments well and gives a solid overview about the status quo.

Active REC Pillars of the African Economic Community (notice the overlap) – Pink: Ecowas; Red: SADC; Dark Blue: ECCAS; Light Blue: COMESA; Orange: EAC (Source: Wikipedia)

As a convinced European I thought it would be interesting to see how this wonderful idea is put into practice and I managed to get an internship position with the German development cooperation (GIZ) at their support program for the East African Community (EAC) which is based in Arusha, Tanzania. The EAC is commonly described to be the most progressive and ambitious REC on the continent and has reached quite some milestones so far. Its five Partner States Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda have rolled out a Customs Union, continuously expand the scope of their own Common Market and have even agreed to enter a Monetary Union with the planned introduction of a common East African Shilling in 2024.

Studies tell you that the EAC is a role model for similar organizations. When I attend regional meetings I have the feeling that true progress is being made. Representatives from all partner states work together well and have an East African approach to many issues the region faces.

It’s the image I also get in my private life. Recently I went to “Sauti za Buzara” in Zanzibar, the most prominent music festival in East Africa. I saw great acts from Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania and danced with Ugandans and Burundians alike. Other weekends I take the bus across the border to enjoy big city life in Nairobi or some Kenyan friends come over to pay us a visit. All I want to say is that – to me – East African regionalism is real and both my private as well as my professional life shows me how it can work – It looks like my optimistic expectations have actually been met.

 Alas, I am living in a bubble and it burst about two weeks ago. It is not the first time I got a reality check since I work at the EAC, but this time it was more brutal than before. Tanzania – our beloved host country – just gave regional integration efforts the bird. Again, it did not come as a total surprise. Tanzania has always been a bit reluctant about opening up towards its East African partners.

The so-called “Coalition of the willing” made up of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda had already realized that and created what we termed in the EU as a “two-speed union”. While the Coalition has arranged for citizens to travel quite freely across these three countries, scrapped work permit fees and made progress on common infrastructure development, Tanzania took things a bit more slowly and only hesitantly implements previous EAC policies.

Yet, two weeks ago the Tanzanian government came up with two decisions that were not only not helping to further integration, but actually represented a fundamental step backwards: Firstly, the Civil Aviation Authority ordered the region’s biggest airline, Kenya Airways, to decrease its flights to Tanzania from 42 to 14 per week. Secondly, the Tanzanian parliament voted for a highly restrictive new immigration law that makes it even harder to get a work permit as a foreigner than it is already. The first decision has been taken back for now and the second still needs to be confirmed by President Kikwete, but they both sent a strong signal: integration is definitely not top priority.

It is especially frustrating for us at the GIZ because two of our focus areas of cooperation are Trade in Services and Free Movement of Workers. On top of that, Tanzania is the second biggest economy and the largest country in terms of population in the EAC – an actor you want to have fully on board.

But why does such a major player dither like that?

You might think that it would make economic sense to go for a bit more protectionism. After all there is some inequality between EAC countries and some Tanzanian companies are likely to lose out by having to compete with their more efficient Kenyan neighbors. Moreover, especially Chinese actors here are often criticized for bringing in workers for tasks that many Tanzanians would be able to do and with 65% youth unemployment jobs are very much needed.

Yet, on a second look, the economic argument is hardly valid. Overall, Tanzania has grown strongly since economic integration began in 1999: its GDP per capita more than doubled over the years and regional trade has taken a similar route.

Looking specifically at the two recent decisions, Tanzania would suffer dearly. The country’s important tourism industry complained strongly to President Kikwete when the ban was announced, as many of their customers are flown in by Kenya Airways and Dar businessmen rely on air transport to the business hub Nairobi. Tanzania’s own national carrier went bankrupt some time ago, local Precision Air does not have sufficient capacity to step in and the budget carrier FastJet is not allowed to operate in Kenya yet (some say that retaliation for this was the reason for the Kenya Airways ban in the first place). Concerning the other bill, Tanzanian businesses rely on bringing in foreign experts to close a great skills gap caused by a broken and underfunded education system. For many technical and higher managerial jobs that the country lacks enough skilled candidates to fill all positions. Simply restricting companies from recruiting outside of the country will not magically create a highly-capable workforce.

It seems like there is little ground to draw back from regionalism for economic reasons. Could we be facing the return of the spectre that haunted and finally helped to destroy the last attempt at an East African Community in 1977?

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Continue reading Part 2 here

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Experiences, Learning

Last Day

On my last day at work, I was handed a box. It was understood that by five fifteen the contents of my cluttered desk would be in it and my ten months working for Oxfam International would have come to an end.

I started with the paper tray which since the first day had slowly piled up giving visual evidence of the poor organisation the placement was supposed to cure. The stack was helpful, therefore, in giving a chronological journey through my time at Oxfam and an opportunity to reflect.

I found CONCORD Europe’s paper on policy coherence for development from my first week underneath posters I had designed for the European Development Days, where I saw celebrities from the development world debate the post-2015 agenda. I came across my press pass from the EU-Africa summit and mountains of media reactions, erratically scribbled on by my boss. It was only ten months, but everything seemed so long ago.

I remember in September I had been anxious. Unpaid internships, I had often been told, could range from the tortuous expectations of coffee runs and anti-social hours to the twiddling of thumbs waiting for the boss to pass down even the smallest menial task. I had been misguided.

At the age of twenty-two and new to the office environment, it would’ve been unreasonable for me to expect a large amount of trust from day one. It is because of this that, at times, I did feel underused. As my placement went on, however, it emerged that rather than being unappreciated, I was simply being lazy.

At the half-way point in February, I was effectively told that; if you can’t do the menial very well, you probably won’t be asked to do the more creative jobs. First lesson learned.

Around that point, my work load started changing. No long was I solely scribbling synonyms for press reactions or watching over the office’s social media. I was given more freedom on more traditional media work, penning a number of opinion pieces and blogposts. Policy advisors started asking for help with research on issues including tax justice and climate change. Work started to feel diverse and I actually started, well, learning something.

And the back drop to this was the ever-changing Brussels life. The bureaucracy which often bores the British started making sense and actually become quite exciting. Brussels, which presents itself as a mundane, very European political centre, started to seem like the centre of the world: Obama visited, as did the heads of state of almost every African nation. The world’s second largest elections were announced there and European diplomacy seemed to be based around its institutions. The work I was doing was directly entwined with this.

The pile of reports and papers was eventually placed in the box, which in turn is now stored, out of sight in my attic. Although hidden, they represent the most notable change that has occurred since September: knowledge. Corny, yes, but true.

I do not believe that Media & Communications is the best fit for me, but I believe work in development or the European Union (or both) is. Internships offer that opportunity.

The development world is intriguing, particularly large non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam. At times you may find yourself confused with internal politics; even I – the young, inexperienced intern – felt disenchanted with some of the issues they followed. But I have been lucky to work with passionate professionals who were always willing to debate my concerns. And now, I return to university to finish my degree with the a heightened feeling of good karma and a brain filled with opinions on Europe’s role in the developing world.

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Commentary

What The European Parliamentary Elections Mean For International Development

UKIP is right about something: whether you agree with it or not, the European Union has a lot of power. Whilst some of it can be narrowed down to regulating the shape of bananas or allowing immigrants to wander in and out of countries as they please, much of the discussion over this week’s European Parliament election has avoided the more intricate, far-reaching policies and ideas the institutions have moulded in the past five years.

Seldom have we heard about the comparatively progressive EU 2030 Energy & Climate package or ongoing negotiations on the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP) which, if realised, will be the most expansive of its type in history. Not once has the EU’s investment in humanitarian assistance or international aid been called to question despite it being the largest, most far-reaching budget of its kind in the world. Instead, voters have been left with a more black-and-white choice: Europe is either good, or bad.

This is an idea some NGOs have been keen to brush aside. The implication of a stagnant European Union is tough to swallow when success is measured by the scope of the Institution’s ambitions. If polls are correct in predicting a Parliament split down the middle in their approach to Europe, it is likely the Commission will adapt to this seismic shift. Issues such as controlling tax avoidance and funding for refugees, already politically sensitive, will come under greater scrutiny, particularly if Europe finds itself jolted to the right and newly isolationist.

In a similar vein, a Europe which is unaccountable and constructed on pessimism is less likely to be bold in its mission of creating a confident, global Europe. It has been five years since the European External Action Service was born which, despite a greatly criticised start, has recently become more confident in itself with the institution become a more recognisable face of joint EU foreign policy. Europe is shaping itself into a rational actor in diplomacy, alongside a series of peacekeeping and training missions in unstable countries; all of which are a product of newly found confidence, something which can only deteriorate in this political climate.

Generally speaking, NGOs avoid taking a position on Europe but rather stick to the mantra that if the tools are in place, they should be used productively . This is why CONCORD, a confederation of over 1,800 NGOs from across Europe, has launched the #EuropeWeWant campaign. By highlighting that the European Institutions can be key in unlocking pan-European and global issues including inequality, poverty and environmental degradation, it hopes to influence not just the way voters look at the ballot but also how perspective Members of the European Parliament choose to use their tenure.

The next five years are decisive in formulating Europe’s international development policy. A shift in private-sector based aid is a clear example of this; whilst NGOs are cautiously accepting the idea, doubts remain in whether this kind of growth can ever be entirely ‘pro-poor’. This fits into the overarching concern which plagues the Brussels-based third sector: the European Union might be exemplary in some aspects, but often falls short in ensuring it’s broader, free-trade based foundations are truly coherent with international development.

If Europe finds itself taking a step back on such development issues, it is unlikely that it will do on the policies which directly affect these. A more right-wing Europe could continue to push trade deals, support the private-sector, including oil and gas, and give preference to European industry, but – if the worst fears are realised – with a less global, ambitious rhetoric to match

 

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Experiences

Reading European Development Policy

One of the great perks of being a communications intern is reading. Each morning I enter the office in a trance, drawn in by the thought of a cup of poorly brewed filter coffee and tepid pain au chocolat, before slumping in front of the mornings headlines. For somebody whose body clock still hasn’t adapted much from the ‘sleep-till-noon’ university one, this job can often be pure bliss.

Of course, ‘media monitoring’ isn’t purely designed to satisfy the occasional hangover. For an office which, in theory, focuses on coverage in twenty-eight different countries on issues as broad as climate change to tax evasion, it is a role which serves to keep policy-makers informed with opinion, trends and media moments.

The job offers an interesting lesson in how different Member States view the European project, ranging from the thoroughly miffed British tabloids to the delightfully Europhilic French Liberation paper. One thing that might not come as much of a surprise, however, is – regardless of political stance – the relatively sparse coverage of development issues from a European perspective.

Nationally, international aid continues to be a small, yet consistent topic. Countries are either, in the case of the UK, standing their ground on the budget despite hefty media pressure or, in the case of Spain, cutting their budgets considerably. In France, the complete restructuring of foreign aid led by the devilishly handsome Pascal Canfin has been lauded by some as a revolutionary approach to aid.

The way the European Union approaches aid is, however, largely ignored; a peculiar fact considering the €53 billion at EuropeAid’s disposal.

Since the Lisbon Treaty, a basic tenet of Europe’s aid policy has been Policy Coherence for Development. It is, in theory, a fantastic idea. No policies in agriculture, tax or climate should disregard the fundamental goals of the EU’s development agenda. Taxation should not encourage evasion from the global south; agricultural subsidies should not drive down prices in Africa – and so on.

In adhering to these goals, PSD can save billions and promote everyone’s favourite buzzword: synergy. Yet, for anyone who has even glanced at other aspects of EU policy, they will realise international development is far from ingrained in the mentality of EU policy-makers; a concluding remark in the damning 2013 report on EU aid by CONCORD Europe.

The fact is, for many international development issues the Europe Union decision-making structure defines many of the key policies we have as a regional bloc. It is of course vital that national governments stick to their 0.7% of GDP targets, but member states’ foreign aid budgets are only the tip of the iceberg in what the EU can achieve if it pushed harder on ensuring better coherence in trade and agricultural policy.

So why, when I sit bleary eyed behind my computer each morning, does it appear national media ignore many EU-based development stories? The truth is they don’t. A lot of the time, it is simply failing to fill in the gaps or, when they do, only paying lip-service to its importance. More likely however is, particularly in the British press, a general underplaying of the important role Brussels plays in our lives and the lives of others.

Ensuring all policies have a broader, holistic approach to the world is an important step in accepting the no-borders, globalised world we live in. With Europe expected to be pushed towards the isolationist right come the May elections, it is unlikely the more populist aspects of the European media will begin to endorse such an important idea. That isn’t going to make my cheap morning coffee any easier to swallow.

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Experiences

Down & Out In Brussels

Last week I found myself making a rather difficult decision: do I buy a pack of cigarettes or do I instead invest it on a new scarf. It really was a ‘one or the other’ situation. My debit card had run dry and I had, for around twenty-four hours, just €7 to my name. I rationalised the situation in my head. Brussels is cold, and I scarf would alleviate that. But so do cigarettes, plus they give me the nicotine my body needs. It was a no-brainer.

Needless to say, my life in Brussels is far from glamorous. After work I return to a crowded house with a maggot-infested kitchen and tepid heating. I have moved from Sainsbury’s to Lidl and meticulously count pennies to pay for laundry. Much like university, everything is an investment, but without the student deals and ability to head home when you need a decent meal.

But Brussels is, for obvious reasons, an interns city, something which makes the feeling of relative poverty somewhat more bearable. You might not be able to afford that new pair of shoes you wanted, but there will always be someone else with even less than you.

You very quickly learn that ‘intern’ is a little more than just title, but an entire umbrella term which covers everything from the Twitter-savvy communications intern working at an NGO to the assistant of an MEP or Permanent Representative.

My house bears evidence of this. The dilapidated town house manages to squeeze in thirteen people. In the mix I find myself living with James, my British compatriot who works at Concord, an umbrella organisation of NGOs with whom my office works closely with, and Ana, a Portuguese girl whose agricultural lobbying group actively endorses biofuels, the product Oxfam spends a large amount of time campaigning against.

Naturally, the diversity of nationalities (my house alone has eight different ones) and range of jobs creates a very active intern culture which culminates every Thursday night for happy hour by the European Parliament.

Naturally, the event is a key opportunity for ‘networking’, one of the Brussels Bubble’s favourite words.

Upon first glance you can make key assertions as to what business people intern for. Suits with ties is emblematic of the private sector intern (almost always paid at least 800 euros a month), whilst slightly worse-fitting suits might represent the Brussels institutions. Then there are the NGO, think-tanks and small business interns, a significant minority within the city, wearing their shirts and jeans.

Rumours about the levels of debauchery these gatherings of interns can reach are far and wide, but I am yet to see it myself. Another intern in my office tells me the stories, but notes that – given the ambitious, dog-eat-dog world of interns – those who work in NGOs rarely find conversation with the expert networkers. “We stick to our own kind”, he said.

And so, come Thursday night, I find myself again with only loose change as I attempt to buy my half-priced beer. I watch as the private-sector lobbyists pull fifty-euro notes out of their wallets, laughing with glee as they had out another business card. As you sip your beer, you might even frown a little and wonder why, as a development intern working for an NGO which makes a considerable impact on the world, you feel like the bottom of the heap.

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Experiences

Press-ure Release

Within minutes of finding my new desk, my inbox is flooded with emails. ‘Here’s your password’, ‘Induction meeting with Angela’, ‘Biofuel protest Wednesday’ etc. I smile; my main worry was having nothing to do and it certainly looks like they’ve thought of some things to keep me busy for my first couple of days at least.

Biofuel Protest

Then I frown. Biofuel protest? I click on it and read that Oxfam – the organisation who has led the charge for climate change refugees – is against biofuels.

Maybe it’s the name or perhaps the media coverage these ‘sustainable’ miracle-crops received when they were first seen to be the answer for tackling car emissions, but I had always assumed (and please excuse my ignorance any climate change veterans out there) that they are a Good Thing. A quick read of the Oxfam report The Hunger Grains quickly corrects my misdemeanour. Not only do can ‘first-generation’ biofuels be accused of distracting a vital source of food from the world’s hungriest and causing human rights violations via ‘land-grabs’, but they are also actually bad for the planet. My education couldn’t be more perfectly timed: September 11th would mark an important vote in the European Parliament and the target of months of lobbying from Oxfam.

It is a little intimidating, of course, coming into an office with its war-face on. I have no experience – and clearly little knowledge – of this kind of environment. After a hour-long induction with the Media and Communications Officer, I’m excited but I feel that I won’t be too much of a help in a vote which, seemingly, is all to play for.

My first week and a half (the run up to the vote) is admittedly, a tad boring. My responsibilities are limited and everything is gently scrutinised by my boss. I am put in charge of media monitoring, highlighting important coverage of both sides campaigning. I tweet several times a day, carefully watching which #hashtags are trending. Hardly exhilarating work, I admit.

I am one of the lucky development interns though. Everyone seems to suggest that the first few weeks are tough, especially for a newbie whose only education of the subject comes are the few odd essays on ‘structural adjustment’ and Amartya Sen who finds themselves in some faraway corner of the developing world. I, however, am in Brussels, living with a handful of close friends in a country remarkably similar to my own (bar the on-going Flemish/French turf-war). Try the chips and mussels, they’re pretty good.

The day before the vote, however, my boss asks me to put together the press releases for the vote. Four different reactions for the four different scenarios the office’s ‘biofuel expert’ envisages. Having been a bit mopey for the past week about ‘not enough responsibility’, it all becomes very daunting. I research previous examples, penning several different options for each situation just in case she doesn’t like my favourite. Eventually I email them to her and, after a light bit of editing, she forwards them on to the head of Oxfam EU who, in effect, the quotes will be referenced to.

We don’t win the vote, but we don’t lose it either. Proposals don’t simply get accepted or rejected, but rather the ‘bill’ is scrutinised to the point of every amendment decided in committee. Biofuels are capped at 6% and ILUC will be acknowledged from 2020.

The next day I am doing my usual ‘media monitoring’, searching for articles which affect the myriad of issues Oxfam covers. And there it is, near the bottom of a Guardian article.

My very first press release credited to a man far more respectable than a lowly intern.

My boss says “you must be very proud”. I try to brush it off, but I am a bit. “Well,” she says, “Oxfam is releasing the austerity report tomorrow, and we expect a lot more press coverage than we got for biofuels”. She sends me a wad of papers to proof read with the instructions to make any changes I see fit. I make a number of changes, all are accepted. The report makes it into newspapers all over the world from the Telegraph to the front-page of Cuba’s La Granma and I like to think I had a part, albeit absolutely tiny, part in that.

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