The Oscillations American National Morality and the Futures of Africa Part II

The Oscillations American National Morality and the Futures of Africa Part II

Sunday, March 1, 2020 1:40 pm

Ademola Araoye

Ademola Araoye

It was observed in the first part of the intervention on this subject that the outcome of the clash of diametrically opposed worldviews, societal values and associated codes of social order in the United States would, inevitably, impact the continued legitimacy of the now imperiled liberalism of the post World War II. It was proposed that the validity of the preeminent system of ethics and morality underpinning the extant liberal global order that was instituted by a triumphal United States at the end of World War II may be thoroughly undermined or even out rightly repudiated. This would be the consequence of the resurgence and consolidation of the extreme right (nativist/fascist) ideology in the titanic struggle for the soul of the United States. 

As, arguably, the hegemon of the global order, or in the least the preeminent power of the West, in the post-Cold War earlier thought as signaling the end of history, internal developments in the United States would provide indicators on the consolidation and continuity or the revision or rejection of the major directing principles of international life as has been experienced since 1945. Conceptually, in legitimizing whatever governing principles are emerging or are advanced in the now fluid system, a particular and definite moral tone is set for the international community. Yet, paradoxically, the legitimacy of an international order does not equate and must be differentiated from morality as understood by conventional parameters of the universal moral system. Legitimacy, in reference to relations among inter-state actors, is amoral. It simply implies that the governing principles are backed by the dominant power and the cohort of powerful allied state actors constituting elite guardians of the system. They are the consequential elites of the system. 

This moral tone set by the hegemon has real consequences for the behavior of states. For example, the domination of the George W. Bush foreign policy machinery by neo-conservatives, operating even within the larger context of a liberalism denominated international system, validated the diminution of conventional diplomacy in the management of challenges in the inter states system. Hence, the aberrant, against the backdrop of subsisting sensibilities in the global system, but dominant internal right wing philosophy in the Bush administration legitimized the enhanced militarization of foreign policy of the United States. This led directly to the proposition of the controversial concept of “preemptive war” that shocked the global system as a dangerous deviation from the major tenets of inter-state relations founded on the principles of liberalism.

The potential ousting of universally shared values flowing from the liberal underpinnings of global stability and, consequently, a fundamental realignment of the preeminent philosophical guardrails governing relations among states, nations and peoples, that the consolidation of a Trumpian worldview would set in motion, imposes a need to critically examine both, conceptually and practically, the structure of the new dominant ideas driving the transformed nature of an emerging uncertain new universe. The objective is to explore the potential implications of this transformation for the historically truncated aspirations of Africa for enhanced and unfettered leverage for autonomous action as well as for the development of relative independent capacities to leapfrog itself into relevance in the affairs of humanity. These implicitly are requisite conditions of the External order for the acknowledgement of the totality of black humanity as a legitimate stake holder in the management of the global order. The curing of these deficits has been at the core of the agenda of radical progressivism, as opposed to the stagnation in the establishment preferred conservative incrementalism, of more discerning members of black humanity. 

This challenge of projecting the implication for Africa of a hostile new orientation in the guiding principles of the system’s preeminent power would entail multi layered interpretive analytic exfoliations. The engagement entails explorations of known attributes of major forces whose activities respectively in the numerous abused political fiefdoms and fractionalized exploited economic spaces in the continent at one level and, at another level, the character of the interactions of mutually antagonistic external actors in relation to the projections of their self defined historic impositions and strategic interests that create a very complex dynamic in the African theater of operations. The complicated interactions impact the continent as a focal prostrate destination of exploitative policies of these forces that constitute the inimical External Order. The External Order is thus a collective reference to all elements that together constitute entrenched inimical forces directly responsible for the construction, sustenance and exploitation of the malignant social, political and economic conditions of the continent. A cursory review of the major external actors would be in order.

A Trumpian worldview extrapolated from the known registered policy activism and the rhetoric of President Donald J Trump suggests this problematic weltanschaeun is a throwback to the primitive values and dangerous sentiments of the ancient embryonic days of the United States of America as a racist imperial enterprise. It is an embarrassing obsolete orientation that the United States of America has sought to erase from its national memory. Yet still this recalcitrant virus intrudes in disruptive cyclical confrontations in the erection of pillars of saner commodious existential institutional edifices for American modernity.

Prof. Noam Chomsky. Credit: Virginie Montet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Noam Chomsky, confronting the engineered institutional vacuumed memory or positively contrived institutional amnesia that is convenient for the desired myth of the nation’s liberal foundations, excavates uncomfortable facts in relation to the militarilist, racist and imperialist antecedents of the United States. He affirms that the United States was founded as an empire. He cites George Washington as writing in 1783 that the gradual extension of the early American settlements “will certainly cause the savage (reference to indigenous populations of North America), compared to wolves, to retire; both being beasts of prey”. Chomsky further highlights that Thomas Jefferson had proposed that “once America did not need slavery anymore, we’ll send the slaves back to Africa. We are the superior race of Anglo-Saxons. It’s only to the benefit of everyone if we people the entire hemisphere”. This notion of the hierarchical arrangement of humanity and might as right in social Darwinism lies at the heart of Realism and it, worse still, underlies a fascist conception of the state as the embodiment of the group and tribe as a nation. The fascist state is founded on far right authoritarian ultra-nationalism characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition and strong regimentation of society and economy. The interest of the group then supersedes the interest and welfare of the individual. Trumpism is not too far.

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Shorn of the euphemisms of politically correct narrations, Trumpism is a coded throwback to this controversial past ideology now packaged as contemporary tenets of recidivist modernity. This applies to domestic politics and, by extension due to the hegemonic status of the United States, to an international arena in a dangerous state of ideological flux. These tenets are integral to the core directives of making America great again. In its policy expressions ‘shithole states” and peoples of descent from huts may be rightly subdued and exploited. The strong white race may dominate the weak. In this philosophy of might is right, there is no place for negotiation. Multilateral institutions would have reduced relevance as mere instruments to be subverted and deployed in advancing partisan national goals in the exploitative management of global challenges, especially against weak societies in all its ramifications. The features of a Trump led global system would be unfettered Unilateralism, unlimited Power, unassailable illogic of Groupthink in an anticipated direct War on Peace. Trumpian idea of politics thus comes closer to an unfettered immoral monarchy that has no room for republican values and ethos. The idea of Justice in this culture, in domestic and in international settings, is understood as the expression of overt crude power relations.

There have been demonstrations of this philosophy at work. The most illustrative being the repudiation of the outcome of years of internationally negotiated delicate balance among protagonists in the challenges in the Middle East. This includes Trump’s plan to “resolve” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That plan has been universally acknowledged as a “disaster”. Policy analysts from conservative Brookings Institute observe that the principle underpinning the Trump plan rewards and encourages violations of international law. They warned that the Trump plan is a troubling position to project globally. Also, in an open letter, 50 former foreign ministers and leaders from across Europe dedicated to promoting international law, peace and security worldwide observed that Donald Trump’s peace plan titled “Peace to Prosperity plan for the Middle East” envisages an outcome with characteristics similar to apartheid. Accordingly, they expressed their deep concern about Trump’s Middle East plan Peace to Prosperity. They assert that Trump’s plan contradicts internationally agreed parameters for the Middle East peace process, relevant UN resolutions, including Security Council resolution 2334, and the most fundamental principles of international law. Instead of promoting peace, they warned that Trump risks fuelling the conflict – at the expense of Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike, and with grave implications for Jordan and the wider region. The plan has been met with widespread opposition in the region, in Europe, and in the United States. More telling is the rejection of Trump’s supposed “Peace to Prosperity plan for the Middle East” by fair minded Israeli statesmen.

Meanwhile, given the dominant mindset of might is right, the rise of Trumpism would exacerbate the long decline of diplomacy as the foremost policy instrument of the United States in its engagement with the wider universe. Coercion or Unlimited force projection may be anticipated as a first tool of engagement to replace traditional diplomacy or the deployment of soft power. That would be consistent with its underlying philosophy of might is right. The relative loss of gravity of the Department of State in managing challenges in the system in the last two decades against an ascendant Department of Defense even in pursuit of foreign policy goals has been remarkable. Ronan Farrow has documented this decline in the institutional relevance of the Department of State from “the era when diplomats forged the bonds that were later integral in rallying allies against the Axis powers” to “how the last standard bearers of the diplomatic profession found themselves, increasingly, at odds with administrations seeking political expedience and military efficiency”. Farrow hazards that in some ways the world had changed since September 11 2001 and had left professional diplomacy behind. He writes that a strain of populism that, from America’s earliest days, opposed and denigrated internationalism, was on the rise across the Western world. 

The foreign policy establishment that was responsible for the creation of multilateral structures from the United Nations, to NATO to the World Bank after World War II had long disintegrated into vicious partisanship. It is against this background that the Trump’s administration’s unprecedented war on the State Department is new extreme trend. The Secretaries of State of the era of the decline of the Department of State from Henry Kissinger to Madeline Albright through Colin Powell et al seemed resigned to the reality that the military is in the lead in projecting America to the world. Farrow sums up that in many of America’s engagements around the world, military alliances have now eclipsed the kind of civilian diplomacy that once counter balanced them.

Farrow however evaluates that the result of these changes, including the militarization of foreign policy, has been disastrous and was making the world less safe. Professor Joseph Nye corroborates this assessment in his affirmation that there is clear evidence that Mr. Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power — the power to attract rather than command. He stresses that the United States has lost credibility since 2017. He highlights that the president’s looseness with the truth has debased the currency of trust that is needed in a crisis, and his continual disdain for America’s allies means the United States has fewer friends. According to Professor Nye, in a new Pew poll, only 29 percent of people surveyed in 33 countries trust Trump. A year before then, Gallup polled 134 countries and similarly found that only 30 percent of the people held a favorable view of the United States under Mr. Trump’s leadership.


That was a drop of almost 20 points since Barack Obama’s presidency. And an annual British index, the Soft Power 30, showed America slipping from first place in 2016 to fifth place in 2019. Meanwhile, Africa, given its weakness in an increasingly cruel global environment, is a prime candidate to be devoured by the loss of salience of soft power and persuasion in global diplomacy as well as the unleashing of the primacy of coercive instruments in the global engagement of elite powers. But first we delineate the character of this Africa on the dinner table.

In this deconstruction of the African universe, a word on the untenable dichotomous character of the discourse around the burden of Africa would be in order. It is politically expedient among politically oriented African partisan academics asserting that there is no alternative to the current dispensation of bankrupt states and their tattered institutions that litter Africa. In this thinking Africa must be presented in the interventions by Africans such as this one as a continent on a fast track to the fulfillment of critical transformative goals. 

They call it Afro-optimistic narratives- to counter what is perceived as globally institutionalized negativity on African affairs or Afro pessimism. Yet, we have often protested in firm denunciations that this counterfeited paradigm of polarity on African narratives is itself a false discourse. It is founded and propagated by the delegitimized political elites who have numerous and gargantuan sores to hide from the world as beneficiaries of a depraved continental order and regimes. Consistent with need for a radical negation of the dolorous existent in Africa, we choose to deploy a philosophy of Afrocentric Afro-realism in our intercourse with ourselves as Africans, especially in relation to our interactions with the External order. This bizarre situation of institutionalized requirement to distort reality in order for the odious establishment to look good against the continental public good recalls Jean Paul Sartre’s uncompromising affirmation about the necessary alternative to “there is no alternative” through a radical negation of the existent.  There are alternatives in the narratives of Africa. Those alternatives are more than just desirable given the malignant existential contortions of Africa.

Africa is in geo-physical terms the center of the universe. It is the second-largest and second most populous continent on earth. As of 1 January 2020, the population of Africa was estimated to be 1,329,459,123 people. This is an increase of 2.57 % (33,328,334 people) compared to  1,296,130,789 the year before. It is the most endowed of all continents with the largest deposition of natural wealth on the surface of planet Earth. About 70% of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa.  It is home to 54 recognized sovereign states and countries, 9 territories and 2 de facto independent states with very little recognition. Africa thus groups together fifty six of the over one hundred and ninety-three entities that constitute a complex universe of hierarchically arranged states system.

The structure of the states system is often defined as the distribution of power among its constituent units. In this structure are embedded power alignments or arrangements or what may be expressed as the configuration of salient affinities in the system; ideological, regional and sociological aggregations. The structure of the international system is important because it is central to the character of the international order that prevails in the system. It is this structure, which is based on the coefficient of power accumulated by each state actor or groups of states with particular validated affinities, often ideological, even regional, which underpins the hard protocols that actually govern international life. The hard protocols relate to generally assumed and conventional axioms on the ultimate use of power to achieve the goals of the most powerful in this universe of state and non-state actors. The soft protocols, its principles flowing mainly from values inspired by neo liberal institutionalist framework, as distinct from soft power, consist of the fine sensibilities and procedures that govern day to day relationships based on trust and cooperation between states in the global system. For institutionalists, institutions help states to overcome impediments to cooperation as states have an incentive to cooperate (public goods) or learn how to work together (reciprocity). These protocols emanate from certain inherited principles related to universally acknowledged sovereignty and rights of states issuing there from, including the dubious domestic and Westphalian sovereignties of most African states and their many quasi states as well as sheer political non entities and aberrations of states in the African constellation.


The claims of these entities in Africa to continued statehood derive more from what Stephen Krasner describes International Legal and Inter dependence sovereignty, instead of the real or demonstrated capacity of their domestic and Westphalian sovereignty. However, whether directed by neo-realist principles expressed in hard protocols or neoliberal framework, the roles that each and every member of the states-system or various collectivities of same, including Africa, whether conceptualized as a monolithic amalgam or a sentimental reference to the commonalities of its peoples, or in its stark reality as a myriad of states with contrived disparate interests, play flow directly from the structure of the system. Recognizing the existence of an anarchic society of states but also an importance for reaching collective goals is one of the key tenets of neoliberal institutionalism.

Given these preliminary conceptual illuminations, the main thesis is that collective Africa, at the two levels of its engagement with the External Order and its malignant internal governance paradigms, has historically lacked the capacity to control and has not been and does not appear to be primed to acquire the necessary capacity to direct its own future. This is largely so because the state in post -colonial Africa, having vacated the vitality of its peoples and emptied the revolutionary fervor and contenst of assumed freedom, is a thoroughly de-validated mechanism. An empirically codified lack of influence over external forces and its debilitating internal construction and de-legitimation have from ancient times defined the course of Africa’s trauma and evolution. The history of Africa in relation to the world is one long stretch of unmitigated subjugation, the associated pain merely refined by evolving moral sensibilities of the dominant External Order. These sensibilities have only in punctuated fashion been on the side of pervasive oppressively insecure across Africa. Respect for Africa’s humanity has only been epileptic and far in between. Yet the connivance of official Africa with its traducers is the driving motif of all its tragedy. For virtually all African states have been corruptly appropriated by groups of individuals linked by certain affinities for their limited partisan, even mere familial, interests. The national interest is defined as the welfare of these treacherous elites that is almost always against the common national or continental good. Africa’s enemies know this and exploit these pervasive individual weaknesses to the hilt. In fact, Africa, mainly through a historically de-validated social, political, economic and spiritual leadership of its spaces and states have always been co-opted or willingly served as proxy-actors of external interests. In the increasing unstable post-Cold War environment and in the era of Trump, Africa is potentially placed to be deployed as ersatz battle field for the renewed struggle between expansionist foreign forces.

The deployment of cultivated interpersonal and institutional affiliations, serving as tools to compromise institutions and individuals, seems critical to the engagements of the system’s elite forces for continued appropriation of Africa’s riled political and economic spaces. Such super-ordinate-subordinate relationships that are premised on these instrumental loyalties have always impacted deleteriously on the internal dynamics of targeted African states. In a world more cruelly disposed, the ensuing destabilization would further diminish the feeble determination in Africa for overall development. Yet, the prospect of further retrogression should provide opportunities for radical progressive forces to confront status quo establishments. The rise of Trumpism, in particular its accent on militarization of foreign policy in the context of  intensified contest by the old inimical external forces in Africa, including new major powers such as China, for the resources of Africa can be anticipated. A radical change in the current “calm” dynamics among interacting external vested interests in Africa is foreseen. Challenges to the extant status quo at all levels are expected.


Anna Sundberg recalls that in the decades following the 1960s, when the colonial period ended, France continued to regard its former colonies in Africa as an exclusive sphere of influence. With its entitlement mindset, even today, France has several thousand soldiers deployed across the continent in permanent bases to facilitate its operations in Africa. These operations, as witnessed in the crises in Cote d’Ivoire and Libya, are mainly the sustenance of its hegemonic ambitions and, possibly, opportunistic expansion of its real estate holdings in Africa. Besides strong historical and cultural links, security is currently rationalized as the overriding motive for France’s engagement in Africa, including in pars of Anglophone West Africa. The anticipated major change would pit Trump’s United States, which has demonstrated a unilateral will to break away from Europe on the fundamentals of what defines the West, against France’s hegemonic pretensions in Africa. The continued partition of Africa based on unilateral national hegemonic impositions would not be tolerated by a United States motivated by radical subversive reorientation of the principles governing interstate relations. And that should apply universally. Along the same line, the United States would raise the level of its current harassments of Chinese effrontery in seeking to consolidate its emerged status as the leading economic partner of Africa. In the ensuing climate of heightened antagonistic engagements for Africa’s resources by the External order, Africa would be further fragilized as forces with an entrenched entitlement mindset like France ring fence their presumed exclusive pre carre and defend its assumed inherited rights to the control of Africa. France’s defense strategies would focus on mobilized radical nationalist groups already manifest and on powerful western forces, including Putin’s Russia, with scant regard for its tenuous monopolistic claims of historic affinity with Africa. In this very engaging atmosphere, France’s continued military deployments and the nature  of its strategic interventions in Africa would then be hinged on many factors, including the intensity of confrontational engagements that emerge to challenge its presumed exclusive ownership and its assumed inalienable rights to control African space in a new scramble. These dubious claims of France are propagated even in the face of open local denunciations of France’s suspected double dealings in the struggle against violent irredentism plaguing Mali, Niger and Cameroon. A reinvigorated presence of China in the economic realm in Francophone Africa, a refocused attention of Russia and perceived or the actuality of initiatives by the United States to engage politically in Africa would hit the panic button in Paris.

Accordingly, Sundberg proposition that the development and future of France’s military presence and engagement are not solely dependent on its own will is borne out in the fact that the strategic context of Africa is rapidly evolving, equally by alteration of assumed certainties in Africa and also the emergence new powerful forces with increasing new stakes that must be protected or political and economic interests to be advanced in Africa. This would refer to post Brexit Great Britain and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In reconstructing its economy outside the regulatory framework of Europe, Great Britain would reaffirm its historic affinities on the continent. Meanwhile, Russia has refocused attention on Africa, seeking to assert itself as a key player on a continent already subject to Western and Chinese influence. After almost 30 post Soviet years, Russia is showing renewed interest in the continent. President Vladimir Putin sees the bolstering of ties with African countries as one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. Experts note that Russia currently stands as Africa’s biggest arms supplier and has shown interests more in expanding trade relations. Russia therefore intends to double trade with African countries to $40 billion.


In a reflection of the complicated character of the new scramble for the control of Africa, Western sources have suggested that Africa has been the target of Russian disinformation campaigns to interfere in the internal affairs of states. It is alleged that Facebook expunged three Russian networks, which targeted eight African countries. The disinformation strategies said to be employed by Russia in certain African countries are more extensive than ever before. According to the Stanford Internet Observatory, a Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency would post on Facebook 2,442 times a month on average. But in October 2016, this network in Africa posted 8,900 times. Facebook campaigns are, however, said to be remarkably large in volume, and more difficult to detect. Russian intelligence operatives are meanwhile alleged to work with locals in Africa to set up Facebook accounts in order to avoid being detected. Thus, these accounts post pro-Russian messages promoting Russian policies, or condemn American policies in Africa infrastructure and security reinforcement projects, such as attack helicopters, mercenaries, and power plants.


All these struggles on multiple platforms, in overt and covert manifestations, would transpire on African soil. It can therefore be expected that the overall internal dynamics in Africa’s riled continental space and in the continental preeminent multilateral structures would be impacted as external forces cultivate, often through unholy incentivizations, sympathetic local proxies and in continental institutions, African politicians, bureaucratic officials and others in the public policy realms who are often prodigiously available, advance their careers and promote their political ascendance in local politics with a view to fostering political perspectives that advance the national strategic projects of their controllers. This pervasive agenda of all external forces in Africa compromise the integrity of national and continental decision and policy formulation processes. The political culture of subservience of local proxies to the metropoles would be further consolidated in the coming anarchy of a new scramble. Should a more assertive hegemonic United States seek to make inroads into the France’s exclusive zone of influence in West and Central Africa, the two regions may be destabilized. The instrumental character of African democracy would remain so. Democracy would be weakened systemically as the Trump United States rivals France at one level and seek, at another level, to roll back the real threat of China consolidating its recent massive gains on the continent. Russia’s resurgent policy goals in Africa would inform policy instruments to deploy in the open strategic fracas.


How China proceeds would influence the character of the sharpened competition with old and entrenched stake holders in Africa. Chris Alden has suggested that the much vaunted rise of China has fostered an overriding sense that Africans ought to tie their fortunes to a Chinese future rather than a Western past. That is profound. China has indeed served as a counter veiling force to Western conditionalities and, by its liberal approach to lending and development partnership, undermined the controversial role of western institutions in the delivery of investment and development aid. Western conditionalities are often theoretically tied by western institutions to the realignment of political culture and involve the engagements of structures ostensibly designed to advance transparency and accountability. The reality however is that there are back channels by the same western governments controlling these financial institutions to direct political developments often through means that would not measure to the very transparency that the conditionalities formally imposed by the institutions that they control impose. John Perkins’ claim of the existence of highly paid professionals economic hench men, in the service of western governments and their clandestine institutions, who cheat developing countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars is instructive. The tools of economic hit men include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. Trust is therefore not in very abundant supply in relations between the West and Africa.


China’s engagement is not without the building of pro China elite caucuses at both national and continental levels. These pro China circle, often a reflection of old historic affinities that date back to revolutionary liberation wars, religiously propagate the interpretation of Chinese deep economic penetration in Africa as driven by long term strategic interests through long term investment within a mutually beneficial developmental framework. The strategic objectives of China make it a fierce competitor of the West in Africa. Should willing African Chinese proxies emerge, as they will more to promote their local agenda against competing local forces, to articulate the Chinese option as a way forward, internal politics in Africa’s big and small political spaces will become even more complex. The resulting heated conflicts in an escalated phase of international entanglements for the control of Africa would be paid for with more African blood. This gives food for thought on how to advance the agenda of radical progressivism without worsening the existential conditions of Africa.


In the final analysis, and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, revolutionary processes, now inevitably, may just erupt like a people redeeming thunder strike, to consolidate the many unviable African spaces into a robust continental federal entity that can confidently initiate radical social engineering projects to unburden African people of the tyrannized democracies of the many self serving ubiquitous corrupt elites. The elite proxies of external interests hide under claims of dubious and token sovereignties expressed in flags of no serous import in the guise of false statehoods. Niall Ferguson provides a vision for the project to emancipate poor people. He writes that whether it is North Korea, Sierra Leone, or Zimbabwe…poor people are poor for the same reason. People become liberated and rich because they overthrow the elites who controlled power and created a society where political rights were much more broadly distributed, accountable and responsible to the citizen. Ultimate emancipation would require the consolidation of the small spaces liberated for Africans to generate the capacity to leverage its resources, including its intellectual arsenals, to autonomously launch itself into a new stratosphere of dignified existence. In that realm a vibrant Africa would be unperturbed by the vagaries of a permanent unstable morality of the global system. In this perspective the challenge of Africa in the era of wild pendulum swings of international morality is the revolutionary rejection of the status quo and the repudiation of its minor states and institutions flowing there from. That would be the beginnings of Africa’s holistic emancipation in the actual rebirth of the emaciated will of the one African collectivity. The Republic of Africa beckons.



• Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine


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