As a successful Igbo business entrepreneur residing in Swaziland, the southern tip of Africa, Kenneth Onyekachi Ihemekwele has a clear logical mind, practical approach to solving problems and a drive to see things through to full-fledged completion. With years of experience in managing and leading teams across multiple sectors with a genuine interest in continental business and contributing to success in organizations, have helped him in many aspects of life.
Today, he is one of the founding partners of Imo State Indigenes Association, a pan Igbo socio-cultural organization, the Executive Secretary of the Association of Nigerian community, the General Secretary of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra aka IPOB in Swaziland. In this interview discussion with Kester Kenn Klomegah from Modern Diplomacy, Onyekachi Ihemekwele expresses his objective views about the current political situation in his native Federal Republic of Nigeria, pertinent problems and unprecedented challenges that are still worrying and, most importantly, the future ahead.
Here are the interview excerpts:
Let us begin to talk about the Igbo dominated Eastern Nigeria. Often times, experts have spoken about political pluralism, ethnicity and federal governance, how inter-connected are these issues?
Igbos people originally from southeastern Nigeria. The Igbos are now widely spread inside the country, while some have moved abroad. Before colonization, the Igbos were very united, lived in autonomous local communities. By the mid-20th century, however, a sense of ethnic identity was strongly developed and the Igbo of the eastern region of Nigeria tried to secede from Nigeria in 1967 as the independent nation of Biafra. By the turn of the 21st century, the population of Igbos about 40 million by then, which was higher than the population of many European countries.
The Igbos have strong passion for trade and commercial activities. However, their trade and commercial influence extends to the whole of African continent. By nature, they are adventurous, love education and highly enterprising.
Most Igbos traditionally have been subsistence farmers. Land is owned communally by kinship group, and is made available to individuals for farming and building. Their principal exports are palm oil and palm kernels. Trading local crafts are also important in the Igbo economy and a high literacy rate has helped many Igbos become civil servants and business entrepreneurs. Notably, Igbo women engage in trade and also very influential in politics.
Therefore, when talking about political pluralism, it is important to note that the present government does not recognize such things as political pluralism in Nigeria. Instead, what is seen today is plain bigotry and nothing more. Ethnicity and federal governance are simply interpreted as one ethic group. Currently, Islam has spread to the Christian dominated Eastern and Southern regions of Nigeria. Right after the Nigeria – Biafra civil war and until now, the Fulani people have dominated the military and politics in Nigeria, all is done for and by the Fulani for Fulani ethnic group.
In your view, it means marginalizing the Igbos in federal political system in Nigeria?
In my view, it simply means marginalizing the blessed and gifted people in the sphere of politics in Nigeria. It further limits them from showcasing their God-given talents in the federal political system. The lgbos fought Nigerian independence starting from the efforts of late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Mbonu Ojike, along with Chief Obafemi Awolowo of the western region, leading the movement of the Eastern and Western region, what was the called the southern protectorate. By 1958, the Eastern region were ready for independence but the northern protectorate were not ready until 1960.
The negotiation to form a federal state by the three regions made for regional autonomy with a weak center. Each region controlled its resources, police and had their diplomatic consulates in Britain. After independence following the military take-overs, the negotiated Constitution has largely remained unimplemented document.
The Eastern region of Nigeria and its people have remained marginalized from developmental programs. Subjected to hardships with all their ports and airports closed to international flights and international maritime. Their children given different cut off points for admission to institutions of higher learning though having the highest literacy level in Nigeria. The armed forces command portfolio, to be shared among the three regions, has become exclusive reserves for the northern region and so is the federal ministries and parastatals.
Currently, there have been armed attacks, violence and destruction of property over decades. There have been a periodic killing of lgbos in the country so-called Nigeria. Mention must be made of over 30,000 people of Eastern region, massacred in Nigeria in 1966. The then Governor of Eastern region, Chukwemeka Odumegwu Ojukwe, recalled all Easterners back home to the East, as their safety could no longer be guaranteed in other parts of Nigeria. This led to the declaration of the Republic of Biafra.
In a desperate bid to keep Nigeria as a nation of the Federal Government led by Gen. Yakubu Gowon unleashed a three-year brutal civil war on the people of Eastern region of Nigeria. Over three million Biafrans were killed. Hunger was used as a weapon of war as the Federal Government of Nigeria blocked all ports in the east. Fifty years after the war, seaports in the east have remained blocked to international maritime.
How do you estimate the real impact of current system of governance on the development in Eastern States of Nigeria?
Honestly speaking, I weep each time I remember the devastation and the underdeveloped Eastern part of Nigeria as a result of negligence from the Federal Government following the end of the Nigerian-Biafra civil war, the military regimes introduced series of decrees that ushered in policies that did not accommodate the development and political interests of the lgbo people.
The punitive economic disadvantages appeared to have persisted years after the civil war, as we speak now almost all the roads in eastern part of Nigeria are bad, out of order and in pathetic conditions. External borrowing is discriminately used to finance development projects in other parts of Nigeria, except the Eastern region where the vast majority of natural resources such as the oil and gas reserves.
The laws are now being made targeting successful Igbo businessmen. The lgbos are people with high aspirations and flair for decency, therefore need to shape their destiny in accordance with their natural ability and capacity. Mostly, armed Fulani men from northern Nigeria, wielding AK-47s and protected with the help of a few unpatriotic elements, have destroyed farmlands.
Do you also think development disparity is a factor creating tension and instability in the country?
Nigeria is one of Africa’s most diverse and deeply divided States in the world today. The decision to merge northern and southern Nigeria, largely for administrative purposes, created a single political entity from the two regions with limited common history, religious and cultural ties, the North is predominantly Moslem and the South predominantly Christian. Colonial rule exacerbated these differences, solidifying religious and ethnic identity as salient political distinction and creating conditions for persistent instability. The north-south divide continues and is marked by serious variations in economic development and access to basic social services. This divide has also fuelled competition between ethnic groups.
The designation of the Yoruba, lgbo and Hausa/Fulani as dominant ethnicities within their respective regions has generated tensions with minority ethnic groups. The strong association of communities with particular territory has also created conflict between indigenes claiming nativity within a given area. Worse is, other Nigerians viewed as internal migrants, are denied rights and granted limited access to land. Competition for control of state institutions, abetted by corruption, and conflict over the spoils of Nigeria’s natural resources, especially oil, have further contributed to these sources of instability. The level of development in the Eastern part of Nigeria can never, be compared with that of the West and North. The evidence is very glaring, it can be noticed, smelt and seen.
Let’s begin with what I call injustice done to the people from the Federal Government. The Southeast zone is the only political zone among the six political zones that has only five States, this I see as a strategy to slow their development by giving them the least amount of revenue allocation.
Secondly, the government has deliberately abandoned the seaports within the lgbo axis, completely ignored Port Harcourt, the second largest port after Lagos. The Government knows fully well that the lgbos are mainly businessmen and will benefit a lot if the port, situated at Rivers state, that’s the Calabar and Warri cities.
At least, the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan completed the facilities at Enugu (now Akanu Ibiam International Airport) in 2013, which enabled the first international flight led by Prince Arthur Eze, who on arrival said with excitement… “I don’t need to go to Lagos or Abuja to catch direct flight again, I can now go from my house to any place of my choice,” but what happened after that?
The Federal Government has not invested any money in upgrading the facilities of that airport, now t in a pitiable condition, very bumpy runner-away without lights, no water supplies, the cooling systems are not working, rather the Federal Government shut down the airport for some so-called security reasons. Meanwhile, Boko Haram is ravaging the Northern region on daily basis, kidnapping, maiming and destroying churches, mosques and communities.
Let me remind that the Southeast region has been the most peaceful region in Nigeria since the civil war that ended in 1970. The roads in the Southeast are nothing but deathtraps, unlike every other zone in the country, every federal road has been in shambles for ages and the government has not deemed it fit to do something about it. Do we talk about the electricity distribution situation, which we can hardly say we are part of? Unlike the North and the West, development in the East can never be compared to that of the North and West. It can be said that the Igbos have been subjected to a form of slavery via the feudal mentality of the Northern Fulanis.
In pursuit of broad based political participation, peace and integration, would the Igbos consider a change to the current constitution?
Considering what our fathers went through during the war, nobody prays for it to happen again. In as much as we want peace, the current constitution needs to be addressed properly, because that constitution was drafted without due consultations with the people of Nigeria. It is a one-sided constitution for the selfishness of certain group of people who call themselves the ruling class, or better still, the northern politicians, therefore there is a heavy call for restructuring of the country into autonomous regions.
Many fighters and militia trained abroad are transported from northern Nigeria to eastern region to occupy farmlands and the federal machinery is put in place to acquire waterways. We cannot fold hands and watch people extinguished. A situation where one ethnic group is allowed to carry automatic weapons and move around in the area while people are policed by soldiers and money extorted on the roads by armed police and military in a subtle declaration of enslavement. We are a free people and have rights to shape our destiny. Our technological achievements are rubbished and inventions relegated to the background.
After the civil war, the technological breakthrough made by the Biafran scientists were destroyed by the Nigeria’s leadership. Our scientists designed the first locally made refineries used to refine crude oil into petroleum products, manufactured and built radio stations and above all produced the first scud missiles called ‘The flying Ogbunigwe’ converted Minicoin aircrafts to fighter planes and produced mines and bullets. The Nigerian leadership destroyed all these invention and returned the country to foreign dependency on imports for needed items.
The first locally designed car by Ezikel Izuogu was destroyed by federal security operatives masquerading as armed bandits. Finally, the Federal Government of Nigeria has shunned the adoption of Innoson Motors built by an Igboman as a national car in preference to foreign built vehicles just to discourage the growth of indigenous technology, particularly from the Eastern region. It is time for a reflection on how we can protect our people, our agricultural inheritance, our culture and our technology. Faced with this reality, the Constitution needs reviewing for the benefit of all regions, especially the Eastern part of the country.
Do you have any suggestions how to tackle rising ethnic attacks and violence in the country?
An inclusive economic and political system is the only solution. The current public discourse is focused on political restructuring along regional lines. The calls for a political arrangement where major ethnic groups will have control over their geographic areas as well as resources therein might help. The danger is that rather than unify Nigeria it would further divide the country along ethnic and religious lines. What is missing in the conversation is the fact that, the environment for violence and oppression of most Nigerians has come about because of the way in which the country’s economy is structured.
The elitist economy cuts across all ethnic groups, the disenfranchisement, marginalization and exploitation defy ethnic coloration. For restructuring to be meaningful, Nigeria must create an inclusive economic and political system where ethnic and religious affiliation will no longer be a defining factor in economic and political participation. What Nigerians need, and are clamoring for, is a country that will accommodate them regardless of ethnic or religious creed, but cannot be because Islam defines politics for the North and not development or merit.
Nigeria needs political, religious and ethnic tolerance. This will be the key to economic and political success, therefore economic and political inclusivity must account for greater tolerance for it to be effective, including addressing the legacy of past injustices and atrocities, rebuilding broken relationships arising from conflict, establishing and guaranteeing public safety in every facet of life, and the need for legitimate, effective political and administrative institutions. The uniqueness of every post-conflict society goes through these processes. The differences are only in terms of what comes first, what is needed at a particular point in time, who should do it, and how it should be done.
As a successful entrepreneur and leader of a Pan-Igbo association, together with other Igbo diaspora associations, how do you possibly intend to embark on a roadmap for reconciliation and restoration of the status of Nigeria, seen as the power and economic giant in Africa?
Sincerely speaking I don’t know why Nigeria is still being called the giant of Africa when the basic things of life is difficult to acquire, what are these basic things of life, good water, good roads, constant electric power supply, security of lives and properties, good hospitals, functional polyclinics, food etc. Whether you are poor or rich these basic things of life is your right but you can’t get them in Nigeria. Other African countries are doing pretty well in these areas.
Nigeria has fallen from grace and there is no remedy for Nigeria to regain this past glory. We had earlier called on restructuring, the need for the Nigerian government to agree to wholesome restructure without reservation or grant a referendum for the people in the South East to strive for self-rule or what is referred to as self-determination.
This would be ideal for returning the country to the era when the regions managed their economic and political affairs. But for now, I think it’s too late to start restructuring because from all indications the lgbos have reached their enduring limits. There are some funny games being mapped out by the northern zone to wipe out the lgbos and claim our ancestral land, of which we cannot fold our hands and watch them perfect their plans, so I suggest the only way forward is to disintegrate and each nation runs its own affairs.
Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?
France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking a way out of an unwinnable conflict.
On September 13, a Reuters news agency article citing unnamed sources and reporting advanced negotiations between Mali and the Russian mercenary company Wagner sparked a firestorm of reactions. The United States, Germany, and the United Nations have all warned Bamako’s military against such collaboration. According to them, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – a thousand have been estimated – would jeopardize the West’s commitment to fighting the jihadists who control a large portion of Malian territory.
But France, understandably, is the most vocal against such a move. The former colonial power has maintained a military presence in the country since 2013, when it halted the jihadists’ advance on the capital. Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, visited Bamako on September 20th to warn Malian colonels in power following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021. Wagner’s choice, she said, would be that of “isolation” at a time when “the international community has never been so numerous in fighting jihadists in the Sahel”.
What the minister does not mention is that France’s commitment to Mali is waning. Emmanuel Macron used the second Malian coup d’état last June, less than a year before the French presidential election, to announce a “redeployment” of French forces in Mali. Although Paris refuses to discuss a de facto withdrawal, even if it is partial, the truth is that the tricolored soldiers will abandon the isolated bases of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit in the country’s north by next year, concentrating on the area further south of the three borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.
Europeans, who are expected to be more supportive of France, are also perplexed. The humiliation of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has served as a wake-up call. The Afghan government’s sudden collapse in the face of the Taliban has demonstrated how difficult it is to build a strong army and institutions. This scenario appears to be repeating itself in Mali.
The possibility of a rapprochement between Bamako and Moscow is taken seriously because Putschists in Mali have always been sensitive to Russian offerings. Colonel Sadio Camara, Mali’s Defense Minister, visited Russia on September 4. Disagreements over a reversal of Mali’s alliances are said to have been one of the causes of the Malian colonels’ second coup, which ousted the civilian transitional government last May.
Russia also acts as a boogeyman for the Malian military. According to a Daily Beast investigation, the Malian army organized a supposedly spontaneous demonstration last May demanding Russian intervention. This was also a warning to the international community, which is growing weary of the country’s poor governance and repeated coups.
Is Mali transitioning from the French to the Russian spheres of influence? Since Moscow gained a foothold in the Central African Republic, the scenario is not a figment of the imagination. Russian instructors and Wagner’s mercenaries have proven their worth in this former French backyard. Even though the UN condemns Russia’s atrocities in this conflict, the Russians were able to push back the rebels who were threatening the capital Bangui last December with the help of UN peacekeepers and Rwandan reinforcements.
The Kremlin denies any involvement with the Wagner group. However, the company is actually run by a close associate of Vladimir Putin. The use of private mercenaries allows Moscow to avoid military commitments abroad, as it did previously in Ukraine and Libya. “Russia is not negotiating a military presence in Mali,” said a Kremlin spokesman in mid-September. When questioned by the magazine Jeune Afrique on September 20th, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra swore that he had “not signed anything with Wagner.” “In the Central African Republic, we have companies that were established in accordance with the law and operate on liberalized markets,” he explained.
Nothing has been decided on Wagner, it is repeated in Bamako. According to the military, the selection of foreign “partners” is a matter of Mali’s “sovereignty.” They regard these “rumors” as an attempt to “discredit the country.” The Malian junta is under siege, not only from jihadists but also from the international community. The latter is calling for elections to be held in February to return power to civilians, as stipulated in the military-agreed transition charter. Electoral reform must come before the election. However, Colonel Assimi Gota, the transitional president, has shown little interest in preparing for these elections. The Malian junta may also be hoping that Russia’s partners will be less stringent on democratic requirements.
Google Drives Deeper into Africa
As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the new initiative that places emphasis on intra-African trade – including free movement of goods, capital and people – foreign players have accordingly raising eyes on using the new opportunity to expand their operations in Africa.
Foreign enterprises are gearing up to localize production in industrial hubs and distribute their products across the borderless territory considered as a single market in Africa. Thus, by its description, Africa’s estimated population of 1.3 billion presents itself a huge market – from baby products through automobiles and to anything consumable.
Google LLC, the U.S. Global Technology Gaint, has primarily set its eyes on business, with a comprehensive plan to expand its operations into Africa. Google made known its plans to commit US$1 billion over the next five years in tech-led initiatives in Africa. It is investing this US$ 1 billion in Nigeria and African countries to support and transform the digital market over the next five years.
In its media release, it said the investment would include landing a subsea cable into the continent to enable faster internet speeds, low-interest loans for small businesses, equity investments into African startups, skills training and many more directions determined in future.
This is in a bid to enable fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, noted that the company was building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. Through the Black Founders Fund, Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support.
The developing world represents the best chance of growth for large internet companies, and today, one of the very biggest set out its strategy for how it plans to tackle that.
“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade – but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of US$1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation, to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups,” said Pichai.
According to him, this is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. The subsea cable is set to cut across South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena, connecting Africa and Europe.
According to Managing Director for Google in Africa, Nitin Gajria, it will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve Africa. It is projected to create about 1.7 million jobs in Nigeria and South Africa by 2025 as the digital economy grows.
Google further announced the launch of the Africa Investment Fund, where it will invest US$50 million in start-ups across the continent providing them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.
It will additionally disburse US$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in order to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid pandemic.
Google is bringing venture capital into the continent. The fund might work in a similar fashion as the Google for Startups Accelerator programme.
Although Africa has a Big Four (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt) in terms of startup and venture capital activity on the continent, the accelerator has made sure to accept applications from startups in less-funded and overlooked regions. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is considered as one of the Big Five information technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Google specializes in internet cloud services, software and hardware as well as online advertising technologies.
Because Now We Can
ASARPI, registered in South Africa as The Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas and in Mauritius as Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas, is not only a primarily virtual Pan African bridging Asia think tank but is also a global multicultural restorative justice and peacemaking making movement.We of ASARPI believe and strive daily to live lives embracing ,living , and advocating restorative justice embedded policy ideas and practices which eradicate serious quality of life problems such as colonialism, racism sexism, ageism,poverty, environmental injustices, anti-religious bigotry,poor government and civil society leadership; and lack of access to decent water,healthcare, law, and education.Core in this ASARPI mission is our rock solid belief that we are all made in the image of God and thus are all brothers and sisters in need of recovering our humanity in the authentic embracing of others especially those we have been wrongly taught we are inferior or superior to since as human beings we are all endowed with gifts and talents deserving to be recognized, cultivated, mentored, and used positively for our self benefit and that of our loved but most importantly ,for the benefit of the rest of humanity.
Giving honor to The Right Honorable Lady Sarojini Jugnauth , welcome Giving honor to my great friend and more than that great brother Mr.Maxime N.C King , to my present and absent brothers and sisters of the Diplomatic Corps lead by my gracious sister Her Excellency Rezina Ahmed, High Commissioner for Bangladesh as well as my brothers and sisters of The Chinese Chamber Silk Route Business community, including FALCON ; educational political, religious , and other civil society leaders and my other brothers and sisters here today including the marvelous leadership of Jienfie Smart City on this October 1 National Day of the People’s Republic of China, and UN International Day Greetings and Welcome. Thanks for coming. All other protocols are respected , appreciated,and observed.
I wish to thank my brother Maxime King for inviting me as Director of ASARPI, to be the Honorary Chair of this historical The SILK ROAD FOUNDATION & The CHINESE BUSINESS CHAMBER__Africa event in germinating right here in Jinfei Smart City the seeds of something well bigger than life in a new needed perspective in linking the economic and business relations among Chinese and other Asians with their continental African brothers and sisters with full effort as well in involving Africans and Asians not only on the two massive continents of the world but also Africans and Asians in their global Diasporas with points of conversions and synergies. As we move forward we need to be forward thinking about mutual respect and collaboration rather than imitating our western brothers and sisters who for centuries indulged in creating and sustaining oppressive and exploitative hierarchies of colonialism, slavery, racism, seismic,ageism,indentured labor, genocide, massive poverty , and the devastation of environments including the disability of biodiversity creating such horrible ecological imbalances generating the terrible pandemics which are characterizing our lives in this 21st century world in which we are trying to survive let alone prosper.
We can do much better than this since as human beings we all are made in the image of God in need of embracing each other and thus finding our own sustaining humanity. We must do better than this what the West has done to us and what we have and do to each other in grotesquely bigoted attitudes and ill exploitative treatments as Africans and Asians take the center field of global affairs with a West not declining but in serious need of reorientation in understanding that White Supremacy and its demands for hegemony and imperialism does not work any more.
We need new ways of coming to justice and peace tables in how we do economics and business together in a world with declining resources though with incredible digital age technologies thus in need to learn how to collaborate rather than taking and keeping rather than going to war to take the oil, the other precious minerals and to take the land of the helpless and hopeless if not by war through deceptive humanitarian overtures with evil undercurrent agendas. We need to do much better. We must and can in bold design and implementation with effective monitoring and evaluation authentic, build a sustainable new world glowing from an African and Asian center which produces quality technologies and commodities from fashions to food to automobiles made to last rather than made cheaply to roll over profits. Where human responsibilities and rights are lived each day not merely talked about. We need to use surplus capital from means of digital knowledge and traditional industrial production to be philanthropically socially responsible and responsive rather than copying the Western way of being greedy and stingy or promoting philanthropic initiatives which are superficial and short term rather than sustainable, Liberating, and empowering. We can do all of this because now we can .
We Africans and Asians wherever we are , no longer have to stoop to those in the North and in the West or in other ways ask for permission and have our sovereignty and other human rights imposed on. Not with nearly half of the global economy being anchored in China and in other Asian countries and with African national leaders increasingly understanding that they too hold extraordinary promise in being serious economic players especially when in coalition with China and other nations as genuine partners in global economic and business futures.
We have a long way to go. What matters is what we are going to do in the described partnership we mark and celebrate today. We are going here in Mauritius on this train of a new era of African and Chinese and otherwise Asian economic and business collaborative partnerships not only for the betterment of our national and continental selves but for the entire world in desperate need to make new mojitos in new glass mugs to bring together all of us be it with chopsticks, utensils, or eating with our hands. So it is the reason why ASARPI as a virtual and face to face think tank is joining brotherly and sisterly arms with the SILK_ROAD Foundation, the African_ China Business Forum, the Chinese Business Chamber , and other Asian business partners in locked brotherly and sisterly arms with African partners to be THE venue for freedom of exchange of ideas and strategies to do the necessary to bring what we dream as being a more equitable world driven by justice and peace and human responsibilities and human rights into a stunning reality for the entire world to see but more importantly benefit from in the liberation and empowerment of all humanity no matter who we are demographically, nationalities,our systems of governance, and our religious beliefs .Let’s go.Let’s get going Now Now.
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