Kole Ahmed Shettima
Note: This paper was prepared for the Diaspora Panel at the ISA Conference in Washington, DC, February 1999. It has been coded for concepts relating to the analysis of diasporas as proposed in Concepts The asterisks in the text are links to support jumps to the entries where specific texts have been quoted. Links in that document support jumps to the table of contents, and also to return readers to this text. In addition to supporting the comparative study of diasporas, this exercise is designed to illustrate a method for developing systems of concepts on the basis of selected texts. The author, who is a graduate student from Nigeria, is himself in diaspora.
Activities of non-state actors in the global politics have received a sustained interest especially since the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989. Their role possess both theoretical and practical challenges to dominant pre-occupation in international politics. However, the extant literature on NGOs in global politics derives most of its inspiration from regime theory and global governance. My paper builds on that but also emphasis a different strand: what is the role of diasporic pro-democracy movements in influencing world politics? What are the strategies they convoke? How do they relate with the government and other sectors of their host country? How influential are they with their counterparts in their home country? How do they relate with counterparts in their home country? What is the reaction of their home country governments, and how they have worked to counteract these movements? How successful have they been?
My case study is from Nigeria where the annulment of the 1993 presidential elections has led to a rebirth of political movements internally and in the diaspora. I consider the experience of these movements in different parts of the world but especially in North America and Western Europe. I will also make reference to the situation in African countries.
* Diasporic Nigerian communities could characterize the current struggle for democracy and human rights as the third wave of `political' struggles. The first wave was the participation of Nigerian students in the diaspora in the Pan-African Movement and the struggle for decolonization. Some of the prominent nationalist leaders such as the late Chief Awolowo and Dr. Azikiwe were activists in the diaspora. They eventually returned to Nigeria to lead the struggle for decolonization. * The second wave of the `political' struggle was during the attempt by the Igbo population in the southeast of the country to secede. They proclaimed the Republic of Biafra in 1967. It led to a civil war with disastrous consequences on both sides but especially for Biafrans. Many Igbos fled the country and found safe refuge outside the country, and especially in the United States. The Igbo population was able to mobilize international opinion in support of their cause. The movement by and large died with the surrender of Biafra in 1970. However, there are remnants of Biafra. * Many adherents of Biafra would rather be called Biafrans instead of Nigerians. The rise and demise of Biafra has influenced the third phase of the political struggles in the diaspora and at home.
It is also important to note that * Nigerians in the diaspora form branches of political parties, and also political parties courts the diasporic community for their support. Similarly, Nigerians in the diaspora have always organized on the basis of radical political movements and ethno-national cultural and political organizations.
Proximate cause of the third wave of political activism is the cancellation of the 1993 presidential elections. In June 1993, the military junta of General Babangida canceled the results of the presidential elections, which was won by the late M. K. O. Abiola. * One of the major undertakings of the winner of the election was to tour various countries and mobilize governments, agencies of civil society and Nigerians in his support. He was accepted widely by many Nigerians in the diaspora as the authentic winner of the elections. Also, he was warmly received by many governments. On his return to Nigeria, there was a military coup led by the late General Sani Abacha in November 1993. He was subsequently detained in 1994 after proclaiming his presidency. His detention was a watershed in the struggle for democracy. The National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was formed to coordinate the activities of all pro-democracy movements in Nigeria. NADECO-Abroad was also formed as the external wing. Several leaders of the pro-democracy movements moved out of Nigeria. Others went on exile when they were accused of treason.
* More pro-democracy activists left the country after the assassination of their colleagues. Most of them settled in the United Kingdom while few moved to the United States. The movement of leaders of the pro-democracy movement sometimes reflects where they studied as students. In other cases, proximity to Nigeria was the most important determinant. Geo-strategic considerations informed the appointment of representatives of the pro-democracy in other countries. Many of the people who fled the country returned to the country after the death of Abacha in June 1998.
* * The climax of the pro-democracy activities was the hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 of his Ogoni colleagues in the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People. This event led to worldwide condemnation of the military junta and suspension of the country from the Commonwealth in 1995. The judicial-murder of Ken Saro Wiwa energized the pro-democracy activists. However, it should be noted that some MOSOP activists make a distinction of themselves from the pro-democracy movement. * They describe themselves as environmental, social justice and minority rights movements. Pro-democracy is sometimes used pejoratively to connote politicians interested in power. While this social construction of difference is important, and it has an impact on the activities of the Nigerian diasporic community, it is sometimes exaggerated. I include MOSOP among the pro-democracy movements because their agenda does not exclude democracy even though it has a radically different interpretation of the concept. Another difficulty is the relationship between ethno-national cultural and social organizations and the pro-democracy movement. The participation of organizations which are rooted in ethno-national agenda in the pro-democracy movements and/or whose leaders overlap with the pro-democracy movements has always posed a challenge. While ethno-national and cultural organizations need not be undemocratic by definition, their activities sometimes are exclusionary of people of other nationalities. Ethno-national and cultural organizations have sometimes strengthened pro-democracy movements. For example, the strength of NADECO is Afenifere, an ethno-national and cultural organization of the Yoruba people. I also include human rights organizations as part of the pro-democracy movements because many of them are part of umbrella pro-democracy organizations. For example, the Civil Liberties Organization is the host of the United Action for Democracy. However, some human rights organizations make a distinction between what they do which is primarily legal advocacy as against democracy, which is presented as political.
These three waves of political struggles in the Nigerian diaspora are different in some aspects. These differences are also important in understanding the strengthens and weaknesses of the current struggles. I will elaborate on four: ethno-nationalism, global geo-politics, global economy and global communication. The first wave was fought on the basis of a Nigerian nationalist claim against colonial white master. The agenda of the nationalists was primarily in constructing a Nigerian nation out of its diverse community. But, most of the students in North America and Europe who participated in the decolonization struggle were mainly from the southern region of Nigeria. The second wave had a very clear ethno-national dimension as one of part of the country wanted to secede from the rest on the accusations that the northern region had dominated the federation. There are claims and counter claims about the position of the southwest and especially on whether they were to join the Igbos. Hence, the people who vigorously supported the cause of Biafra were mainly Igbos. Indigenes of both the southwest and the north were either indifferent or vigorously opposed the Biafrans.
* In the third wave, ethno-nationalism is a prominent factor either by omission or commission. The winner of the June 1993 presidential elections is from the southwest. The leadership of the country who canceled the elections happen to be from the north. Although, Abiola defeated his rival candidate from the north even in the candidate's constituency, ethno-national interpretation is given to the cancellation of the elections. There is no doubt that the pro-democracy movements have most support from the southwest. The response of the southeast and the north is not as strong as in the southwest. This is also reflected in the diaspora: most leaders of the movement are Yorubas from the southwest.
* Global geo-politics have differential impact on the three waves of political struggles in the diaspora. The anti-colonial struggle received significant support from the United States and the former Soviet Union, two of the global powers in the 1950s and 1960s. Being non-colonial powers in Africa, they championed the cause of decolonization. There was a global consensus in support of independence and the right of self-determination. Even for the British in Nigeria, the issue was more of when and not if. * In the second wave, while there was no major change in the global structure of power but the British and the Soviets were perceived to be supportive of the Federal Government of Nigeria, and the United States and the French were perceived to be supportive of Biafra. It is also important to note that the principle of sovereignty was very strong at that time. Hence, most African countries with the exception of Tanzania and Cote D'Ivoire were supported of the central authorities in Nigeria.
* The nature of the global economy during the first and second waves are not dramatically different. Nigeria was during that period agricultural economy. Its significance in the international economy was in terms of export of raw materials. Oil has been discovered as early as 1958, and there is an argument that one of the reasons for the proclamation of Biafra is to control the new found oil riches in the southeast. Yet, oil had minimal impact on the economy at that time, and its role in Nigeria's position in the international economy should not be exaggerated. For example, parents, communities and host governments sponsored many of the students in the diaspora at this time. The government of Nigeria sponsored very few Nigerians. * However, at the time of the third wave, Nigeria is one of the largest exporters of oil. Its geo-strategic position is equally important being outside the Middle East. * * The government in the late 1970s and 1980s sponsored thousands of students to study abroad. Many of who have also stayed in their host countries. By the middle of the 1980s, the collapse of the oil economy in Nigeria was apparent. This is followed by a massive brain drain. Despite the collapse of the oil economy, Nigeria still retains a strategic significance to many countries, and multinationals especially those in the oil sector.
* Global changes in information technology have a profound differential impact on the effectiveness of the political struggles. During the first wave of the political struggle, what can be termed rudimentary information technology existed. Communication was very difficult. In the second, high level of technology had developed. The information machinery of Biafra was very effective. Clandestine radio stations were set-ups. Coverage of the events in Nigeria was widely available in the diaspora. However, this is not comparable to the advantages enjoyed by the third wave of political activists. The internet and web sites have been very effectively used. The Nigerian military junta in its campaigns, also, has to some extent taken advantage of the new found technology.
The Pro-Democracy Movements
* There are no less than 100 pro-democracy movements in the United States, 5 in Canada, and 50 in the United Kingdom. * While a few of these organizations pre-date the cancellation of the June 1993 elections, most were set-up spontaneously as a response to the crisis. Those that pre-date the June crisis started as radical social justice organizations. Politics, in the sense of partisan politics, was not on their agenda. Most of the pro-democracy movements also started as independent organizations without any link with the pro-democracy movements in Nigeria. Some, however, started as a branch of pro-democracy and human rights movements in Nigeria.
* Most of the activists in the pro-democracy movements are not professional politicians. They are Nigerian students, former students and other professionals living in the diaspora. Intellectuals play a leading role in this movement. Perhaps this is due to the nature of their profession and the flexibility of their schedules. It was after the formation of the National Democratic Coalition in 1994 and the subsequent harassment of its activists by the military junta that some opposition politicians joined the ranks of the activists in the diaspora.
In 1995 and 1996 tremendous efforts were made to bring together the various organizations under an umbrella organization, the United Democratic Front for Nigeria. It is modeled after the South African United Democratic Front. The Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who is also Chair of the National Liberation Council of Nigeria, leads the UDFN. Intellectuals lead most of the organizations, which formed the UDFN, and they did not participate in partisan politics. * These efforts were hatched during meetings in Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. Beside the UDFN, is another umbrella organization, NADECO-Abroad. Its membership is drawn primarily from professional politicians. Chief Anthony Enahoro, the Nigerian who moved the independence motion in 1958, leads it. He is also the Chair of the National Reformation Movement. He narrowly escaped the bullet of state assassins in Nigeria, and went into exile in Canada and then settled in the United States. * Further efforts have been made to form one umbrella organization. This led to the convening of the World Congress of Free Nigerians in Washington and a subsequent one in London. These efforts did not materialize into a single association. Indeed, a third congress planned in Canada did not hold. Instead, a joint organization of NADECO-Abroad and the UDFN was formed as Joint Action Committee for Nigeria. It should noted that despite these efforts to form umbrella organizations, there are many Nigerian pro-democracy organizations that are not part of any of the major formations.
A parallel process of mergers and alliances is also constructed within Nigeria. In the 1990s, the first most significant pro-democracy formed in Nigeria is the Campaign for Democracy. CD was formed as early as 1990 in recognition of the shortcomings of the transition program that would have terminated with the June 1993 presidential election. Its membership and that of the UDFN share a similarity of not being involved in partisan politics. It was the initial contact point for most of the organizations that came to be part of the UDFN until a split which led to the formation of the Democratic Alternative. It also became another contact point for some in the diaspora. The formation of the NADECO after the detention of Chief M. K. O. Abiola provided the internal platform for partisan politicians internally. In 1997, the United Action for Democracy was formed. This organization brings together human rights, environmental rights and smaller pro-democracy organizations. Later in 1997, some of these organizations formed an umbrella organization known as Joint Action Committee for Nigeria. This is the equivalent of JACOM in the diaspora.
Different Context! Different Struggles
One of the primary responsibilities of the democratic opposition is to delegitimize authoritarian rule. The use of the global media and technospace for this cause is remarkable. Perhaps no other event more than the hanging of Ken Saro Wiwa on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of States and Governments Meeting in Auckland and the coverage by the international media propelled the international community to action against the military juntas in Nigeria. Most international press covered the attendance of that meeting by pro-democracy activists including the son of Ken Saro-Wiwa who went to plead for his father's life. Although the testing of nuclear by France was expected to dominate the meeting, the dynamics of events changed, and the position of Nigeria in the Commonwealth became the focus of the meeting. Subsequently, Nigeria and two other countries were suspended from the organization. Immediately after, there was the production of a video with the title The Delta Force by Channel Four, London to inform the public about the situation in Ogoni and especially the role of the military and Shell.
* The Nigerian pro-democracy movement has put to good use the global media and Internet. The Delta Force has been effectively used as campaign tool. In terms of the internet, the Naijanet, is a forum used by pro-democracy activists to disseminate information about Nigeria. Very many people subscribe the Naijanet and at the moment it is oversubscribed. Subscribers receive as many as three hundred mails per day. While most of the people who subscribe to the net are Nigerians, there are others who are non-Nigerians in the host countries of the Nigerian diaspora. We should also except key sectors of the governments of the host country and home country to monitor the information circulated in the Naijanet. The News De Jour, commentaries by pro-democracy activists and the reproduction of Nigerian newspapers and news magazines are the vehicles to disseminate information. Many participants in the net are knowledgeable about the situation in Nigeria.
Beside the Naijanet are other LISTSERVS such as Igbo-net, Nigeria news, Yoruba Net, and THT. Individuals also operate long list serves such as the BBC and VOA Hausa Service, and NNews. Similarly, pro-democracy organizations run their LISTSERVS such as COHDN news. While some of these LISTSERVS have a big audience, others are targeted to host country government officials and organizations. News is gathered from a variety of sources including news agencies, privately from Nigeria, Nigerian newspapers and news form newspapers in host country.
The host country is well served in terms of information. However, the connection with Nigeria is difficult. Certainly news is gathered from public and private sources in Nigeria and posted on the net. However, many Nigerians do not have access to the net. Very few organizations have email accounts. Those that do graciously acknowledge the receipt of the news sent to them. On many occasions, Nigerians in Nigeria are not aware of some of the things happen within the country. This is explained by a variety of factors: straddle between different responsibilities and needs, the high cost (both monetary and security) of gathering information in Nigeria, and the private source of some of the information. * The military junta has deliberately as a matter of state policy undermined the communication network in Nigeria to control access to telephone lines. Regular telephones are closely monitored especially to and from pro-democracy activists. There is a virtual monopoly of communications by a state-owned company. The personal cost of access to phones lines is exemplified by the sentencing to 25 years imprisonment of Dr Beko Ransome Kuti, the Chair of Campaign for Democracy, for allegedly faxing a document to London about a coup trail. The document was used as an evidence of being accessory to the coup.
Web sites also provides information about the situation in Nigeria. Several pro-democracy movements maintain a web site to share information about Nigeria. These include the UDFN, KIND, MOSOP, and COHDN. These sites are also linked to other web sites. Other means of information sharing is speaking engagements and community outreach. Pro-democracy activists in the diaspora and visitors from Nigeria have spent a considerable time speaking in community events, on campuses, interviews in televisions and radios and newspapers. Writing articles in influential newspapers about the time of important meetings or anniversaries. For example, * no less than thirty human rights and pro-democracy activists from Nigeria have visited Canada from 1995 to 1998. Wole Soyinka, perhaps more than any one else, has committed so much energy and time traveling through out the world. He has spent more time in airplanes, airports and hotels than at his residence. Owens Wiwa, the brother of Ken Saro Wiwa and Hafsat Abiola, the daughter of M. K. O. Abiola and the slain Kudirat Abiola, became the moral voices of their murdered relations. These people and others including Julius Ihonvbere and Kayode Fayemi attended conferences, meetings and workshops on Nigeria or of important meetings of international organizations. Specifically targeted meetings are that of the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United Nations Human Commission, the Organization of the African Unity and the African Human Rights Commission. Nigerian activists in Nigeria are also sponsored to attend these meetings in order to give `authenticity' to the testimonies. Influential human rights organizations, foreign policy institutes, democracy institutes, and research centers are regularly visited to share information. Many of these people also appeared before parliamentary foreign policy committees to testify about the situation in Nigeria.
* One of the major information initiative of the pro-democracy movements, is the launching of radio stations in Nigeria and internationally. Internationally, Radio Kudirat Nigeria broadcasts to Nigeria in English the lingua franca, the three major languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, Pidgin English, and other minority languages. RKN has helped to disseminate information that is out of control of the military junta. It also serves to warn about impending attacks by the military. The role of the station can be appreciated only when one looks at the fact that the government controls more than 99 percent of radio and television stations. Even those that are privately owned are operated in a very tight and difficult situation, and often they are inked to government security agencies.
Radio interviews in international media are one of the connecting points between Nigerians abroad and those at home. Notable radio programs include Network-Africa (BBC), Daybreak Africa (VOA), World Service (BBC), VOA Hausa Service and BBC Hausa Service. These international services are also listened to in the diaspora, and the interviewees are usually those in Nigeria. They also play a useful function of different source of information from the government controlled stations. Indeed, many Nigerians would rather listen to these international stations than those of the government. The significance of these radio stations is not only political but also personal as some of those interviewed are in exile. Thus, the parents and relations of such people listen to these stations hoping to hear the voice of their loved ones.
* Pro-democracy activists have lobbied for imposition of sanctions against Nigeria. This strategy has been more successful at local and state levels than national levels. In the Toronto City Council, a motion to stop buying gas from Shell was narrowly defeated. In the US about 4 cities have passed resolutions not to buy Shell products and/or to do business with any company which does business with the military junta. There are symbolic gains such as the naming of a street after the late Kudirat Abiola near the Nigerian Embassy in New York .
The efforts of the pro-democracy movements have been facilitated by linking -up with host country human rights (Africa Watch, Amnesty International), environmental (Green Peace, Sierra Club), labor (Canadian Labor Congress, Commonwealth Trade Union Congress), church (World Council of Churches, Inter-Church Coalition on Africa), political parties (Labor Party), community (Trans-Africa), Writers (Pen) and media organizations (Canadian Journalists for Freedom of Expression and IFEX). Some of these host communities also have their partners in Nigeria. In some countries such as Canada the pro-democracy movements have worked with other organizations under an umbrella known as the Working Group on Nigeria. The groups bring together a diverse community of activists to strategies their work on Nigeria, and also relate with the Canadian government. In the United States, the Roundtable on Nigeria brings together a diverse group of organizations.
Working relationship between host country organizations and
pro-democracy activists has not been easy. There is the issue of
territoriality. In some cases, pro-democracy activists argue that their
issue is being hijacked by NGOs's who are perceived to be not politically
active, and who are also accused of getting involved as `business'. On the
other hand, NGOS's argue that pro-democracy activists are very biased and
emotional. At the bottom of all these struggles are issues of power and
The involvement of significant sectors of the civil society in the host countries is also related to some of the personalities involved in the pro-democracy movements. In particular are Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Chief M. K. O. Abiola. Soyinka being a Nobel laureate draws international audience. As a writer he belongs to many associations including Pen. UNESCO also appointment him as a good will ambassador. He also belongs to the influential Nobel laureates association. Ken Saro Wiwa was a writer, an environmentalist, minority rights activist and a businessman. In all these facets of his life, he established international connections. For example, as a writer, he was a member of PEN; as an environmentalists he was highly regarded by Green Peace and Sierra Club; as minority rights activists, he was the president of the African Association of Minorities (?), and the Vice President of the UNPO. He appeared to testify before the UNHRC. The World Council of Churches regards his prosecution as a form of racism. He received several awards including the Alternative Nobel Award and the Goldman Foundation Livelihood Award. Chief Abiola was the Vice-president of ITT Africa; he published a chain of newspapers and magazines. His philanthropic activities have extended to the African Studies Association, the largest academic association of African studies, the Black Congressional caucus, Trans-Africa Forum and the African reparation movement. He established a constituency within governments and business circles through out the world.
Beside informational relationship between the pro-democracy activists and the home country civil society agencies and governments and host country governments and civil society agencies,* material support for the home country organizations is very important. This has become critical partially due to the changing the collapse of the Nigerian economy in the late 1980s and 1990s. Hitherto, the middle class ran most organizations from their income. However, the crisis wiped out the middle class in Nigeria. The impoverishment of the middle class is part of the military's policy to make them so poor that they will be preoccupied with the struggles for daily livelihood. Furthermore, the impoverishment of the middle class makes them susceptible to be bribed by the military, which has access to a lot of wealth. Few of the rich people who support the pro-democracy have been intimidated after the assassination of Pa Alfred Relwane, a financier of NADECO and the treasurer of the organization. In addition, most business in Nigeria defends on government contracts, and therefore they are not likely to jeopardize their relationship with the military. While there are foreign funders who support pro-democracy organizations, more support is given to the human rights oriented sectors of the organization. Moreover, funders do not usually give personal support to pro-democracy activists. But that kind of support is crucial if a sustained struggle against a military junta is to be achieved.
The pro-democracy movements and individuals in the movement are saddled with the responsibility of raising funds in support of their counterparts in the home country. This is done through various ways fund raising from the public, individuals and foundations. Logistic support such as computer, telephone, and fax are provided. Organizations such as MOSOP Canada are involved in educational project (buying of books for primary schools, rehabilitation of buildings) revolving fund to support women micro-credit, and financial support to refugees in Togo and Benin. Supporting individual activists is also part of the strategy of the pro-democracy movements. Some of the activists lost their jobs due to their involvement in the pro-democracy movement, while others have devoted so much time to the movement that they do not engage in other activities to supplement their primary income.
I made references to the relationship between host governments and pro-democracy movements in the diaspora. However, the impact of their activities on government policy making is more difficult to ascertain. In Canada, where there is a commitment to multiculturalism, the government has consciously worked with Nigerian organizations on several issues. It does not seem to be the case in other countries. Moreover, Canada more than any country have made more public comments against the military junta of General Abacha. It provided refuge to Chief Anthony Enahoro, family members of Ken Saro Wiwa and Chief Adebayo, the Secretary General of NRM, and the representative of NADECO-Abroad Canada. But Canadian government position is also not unrelated with its role in the Commonwealth, its foreign policy objective of promoting Canadian values, which include human rights and its limited economic and geo-strategic interest in Nigeria.
It is not only the pro-democracy movements which lobby for their cause, * business communities and the military junta in Nigeria are also actively courting governments, legislators, policy makers, churches, civil society activists and the Nigerian diaspora. They have worked to delegitmize the pro-democracy movements, minimize the situation in Nigeria and build a constituency for their cause. Lobby firms were contracted to lobby government officials in Western Europe and North America. In particular, two firms, one with close relationship with the Republicans and another with the Democrats were hired in the United States. Shell International regularly, sends its officials especially Emeka Achebe, Alan Dethridge and Pepple Noble to give a different interpretation of their activities in Nigeria. Nigerians in the diaspora who are sympathetic to the military are also engaged in counter-prodemocracy campaigns. Also, visits are organized of politicians, business community, Ogonis, journalists, and traditional rulers from Nigeria to other parts of the world. In the host countries, there are politicians, NGOs, Community organizations, news media and churches that are sympathetic to the military. The major aim of all these pro-military actors is to provide information to the civil society and government officials. In attempting to delegitimize pro-democracy activist, special publications on Ken Saro Wiwa, Wole Soyinka and M. K. O. Abiola have been produced. They are meant to raise doubts about the sincerity of these persons through character assassination. Soyinka and Saro-Wiwa are usually presented as violent extremists, and political appointees in previous military regimes. A series of bombings in Nigeria were linked to the pro-democracy movements and especially Soyinka. Dozens of people were detained on charges of treason. Doubts are raised about their accountability while in government. Soyinka is also accused of being a sectionalist in the appointments he made while in government whereas Saro-Wiwa is portrayed as a greedy and demagogic who wants to control vast oil revenues for a population of about half a million people. He was accused of instigating youths and of making untenable promises to them. Abiola was portrayed as a military protégée who became wealthy due to his connection to that institution. Doubts were raised about the results of his election, and especially his role in the coming into power of the Abacha junta. Also, he is presented as some one who has no respect for women.
* The pro-democracy movement in general is presented as a group of selfish Nigerians who are enjoying the luxury of Western Europe and North America. They are said to be globe trotting and accused of being out of touch with the realities in Nigeria. The military and its associates argue that the money they get from foundations and donations from the public in the host countries drives pro-democracy activists. According to them pro-democracy is a big business. In addition, the constituency of the group is always questioned. It is often said that the pro-democracy movement has very few members and supporters.
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