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African Startups Are Increasingly Attractive to Investors (afridigest.com)
194 points by thought 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

I feel the need to make a top level comment here.

I am in West Africa right now, have been to 15 countries in 12 months, and will visit another ~22 over the next 12-18.

CNN, Fox, the whole western media are not telling you the truth about life here. They are showing you the sensational stuff that makes headlines, nothing more. Because of that, anyone that has never been has very little information about the realities.

The comments in this thread are so far from the truth they are a disgrace. People are commenting here that clearly have no actual experience, and are just parroting what the media said about africa in the 1980s. It is not the 1980s now.

Comments about constant war, "most African countries already have huge problems to provide even basic needs to already existing population", etc. just show how ignorant about the realities here people in the developed world are.

There is a massive, massive amount of development here, and hundreds of millions of extremely happy, friendly and kind people pulling themselves up into the middle class and beyond.

If you "think" otherwise I challenge you to come here and see for yourself. You will be utterly shocked (I was, after years and years of research and talking to >50 people who have done what I am doing now)

The thing is, Africa is also a huge continent. So, if something bad happens in Somalia people in the west assume that all Africa is in big trouble. In the west we have no sense of how big Africa is and work under insufficient information, e.g. I know someone who has a travel company in Uganda and when ebola broke out in West Africa, people canceled their trips and business plunged. There were no ebola cases in Uganda. The US or Europe were effected more by the ebola outbreak than Uganda [1]. The vast majority of people in western countries, don't understand Africa.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Ebola_virus_epide...

> The thing is, Africa is also a huge continent. The vast majority of people in western countries, don't understand Africa.

I agree 100%.

Said in another way, the Western Media is doing a terrible job of informing people in Western countries about Africa.

Having been here a year, I now go so far as to say the Media are doing a negligent job. It's disgusting and is causing real harm (as you illustrate).

> the Western Media is doing a terrible job of informing people in Western countries...

Here there is a sobering view of its size:


I completely agree that they are misinformed. A huge number of them think Africa is one big country.

And that the wars they read or see on the news is happening all across Africa. It really upsets me.

Am from Zambia and we have never experienced any war (yes not even civil war) its a beautiful, peaceful country. The only thing westerns know about Zambia is the Victoria Falls, because it was named after Queen Victoria. The rest is not important.

And FYI am the Co-founder of www.cognifly.com

A search engine for Zambian web searches.

So as one of the afformentioned ignorant people, where would you recommend in Africa? You're right, I know almost nothing about Africa but I would like to visit one day.

Edit: typo.

I have only been to the West Coast so far, which is very difficult for travel. I believe (but have no experience) Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda are all spectacular are easy (er) for travel

I'm writing from Nigeria! After talking to a bunch of tech people, and a great conversation with a different trying to start a restaurant chain, a common theme is onerous investment terms. Sounds like you can't get a investment unless you've been operations for a year or two already, and are already profitable. There is some amount of tech start up finding, but it's actually miniscule in the scheme of things.

You don't see many chains/franchises here: takes capital to start and expand them, which people can't get access to. So most businesses are one-offs. There's a lot of space for innovation here; living in Kenya, I used to say you couldn't walk down the street without literally tripping over a market inefficiency. Just gotta get the investment to come in and get to the right people...

(There's a direct flight from Atlanta to Lagos these days if anyone is interested in checking it out, by the way.)

Where in Nigeria are you? I'm currently in Abuja but I live in Lagos. Let me know if you need any pointers in getting around the startup scene.

My details are in my profile.

Leaving Abuja back to laps in a few hours, unfortunately. Sorry to miss you!

Would be great to meetup if you're in Lagos

I think most westerners would be surprised if you told them China had a 600 million middle class with better living standards than most Americans. We still have this image of a third world, but the truth is, that outside war torn areas, things have been improving for decades.

Hell, the now 14 year old African girl my daughters class sponsors, who is from one of the poorer areas, recently build a water filtration system and hooked it up to their solar panels and a raspberry piish device that I don't even know what is.

>...and are just parroting what the media said... Now apply that further and you get an idea of how the we are conditioned to think and feel about almost every issue.

I'm not African but I have been there and do business with people in several African countries and I also agree 100%.

Thank you.

I was in Africa last year for 2 months after 16 years in the US. I share your feelings 100%.

Where have you been? Where would you recommend the most for a first time visitor and why? Genuinely curious about visiting Africa in the near future.

How do they view the chinese?

As an expatriate Kenyan, looking back at home over the last few years has shown a huge increase in investment by both MNCs setting up there and investors flocking to back local companies. But it's usually a huge wave of euphoria, helped by a government that wants to appear welcoming, which then peters out as the company projects get bogged down in corruption, resource volatility and inconsistent outflow of human capital. Eventually it becomes a sunk cost but the company continues to operate there low-key while they look for other strategies.

I suspect a very similar situation is happening in many other African states that are pro-investment.

I would say that a key thing to bear in mind is that investments in Africa are first and foremost just that: investments. They could fail. And treating it as a homogeneous body is akin to saying you're investing in North America instead of saying you're investing in a specific company in South Carolina because of xyz economic, social and political factors.

I'm a very happy investor in Ensibuuko, mentioned in the article above. My hypothesis is that Africa over the next two decades will look like India and China the previous two decades. There will be a large Alibaba-like company that emerges from Africa.

I've seen this prediction about Africa for the past 20 years. And it's probably even older than that. It's not a particularly bold one, in my opinion, but it is a flawed one.

Africa is not a country, it is a continent. Comparing it to India or China (whose economies haven't really paid off for foreign investors as much as you'd think) is a major flaw. China and India have an incredibly consistent society from corner to corner and well organized governments. Africa on the other hand is a few dozen sovereign countries, without a common culture or language between them. They are constantly at war with each other and within each other.

I think in order to extract the full economic potential of Africa you'll need to see unification at levels that put the EU to shame and at least a decade of trusted, non-corrupt, forward looking governance.

I think it'll happen, but not for a very, very long time. Until then, follow the Chinese govt investments in Africa and try to tag along.

India have an incredibly consistent society from corner to corner and well organized governments.

That is literally the first time I have ever heard anyone, Indian or not, describe India that way.

I've been to India several times, and as a foreigner looking from the outside, I can say that it has much more consistent society than it may look to the Indians. The government, however corrupt, is still way better than what most African countries have.

And India is far less fragmented than Africa.

They have like a dozen languages in like 5 different scripts. Their advantage is that English is ending up as the common tongue of India, so there's lots of English there.

More like 22 official languages in 10 scripts.

Perhaps 'organised' rather than 'well-organised'? But the point is that 'India' has a national government (and a cricket team, and an army, etc), and 'Africa' has nothing of the sort.

Neither has North America

I tend to share your pessimism having been exposed to the "we can fix Africa" ideology for a while. That said, the Chinese have a much better track record of going into a place and not "fixing" it so much as adding a merchant class with a working payments exchange system which converts into much more fluid money markets. My grandfather called it mercenary mercantilism but it that was just his name for markets without judgement. You want to sell water wells? great, you want to sell slaves? no problem, etc. By not tying externalized notions of proper governance to the furtherance of economic development, things moved more quickly forward.

Actually the Chinese build near-extra territorial enclaves. In the Western model you pay bribes to many people (though intermediaries), while in the Chinese one you pay a few people at the top.

It's more along the lines that when the US comes to 'help' a country by providing foreign aid it usually has strings attached like "oh by the way, you can't sell women anymore if you want this aid" (that is the 'judgemental' part, where the aid is contingent on a change in a behavior that has been around for generations but it anathema to the sensibilities of the US). People who come in and say, "We're providing this aide to develop this part of your natural resources, infrastructure, what have you, because we're going to be buying goods from you. Not any of the women because we don't buy women but other stuff you make." Would be an example of a 'non-judgmental' aide package.

The latter tends to spur economic activity with much less friction than the strings attached version.

> Africa on the other hand is a few dozen sovereign countries, without a common culture or language between them.They are constantly at war with each other and within each other.

I am on the ground in West Africa right now. I have been to 15 countries from Morocco to Gabon in 12 months, and will visit another ~22 in the next 12-18 months.

Your statement makes it clear you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Maybe what you said was correct in 1980, but things are changing faster than you can imagine.

There are 54 countries (not a few dozen), over 1.2 billion people in "Africa".

Your statement about war is so far from the truth it's laughable and absurd.

If you get your information from CNN and Fox, you need to stop. It is not giving you an accurate picture of how the world functions

Thanks for the insight, but

> There are 54 countries (not a few dozen)

I’d say 54 is a “few dozen” as much as any number can be described as such.

Sorry if bikeshedding.

I don't think size is the big problem. Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world; larger than Russia or Japan.

You don't hear these things through the media. Population numbers are consistently surprising to me at least.

In 20 years, (2047) Nigeria's population alone will be pretty close to the US. 376M (Nigeria) vs 384M (USA) https://www.populationpyramid.net/nigeria/2047/

2047 is 30 years away, not 20. Thirty years is a long time for a massively corrupt African country to go without a protracted and bloody civil war.

> Africa is not a country, it is a continent. Comparing it to India or China (whose economies haven't really paid off for foreign investors as much as you'd think) is a major flaw. China and India have an incredibly consistent society from corner to corner and well organized governments

I know. I’m ethnically Indian. I’ve been to India multiple times. If I were to invest in an Indian startup it would probably be in Bangalore or Chandigarh.

Just as it is highly unlikely that I invest in a startup in Wyoming, it is unlikely that I invest in startups in large parts of Africa.

Calling it “Africa” is just short hand for segments, categories, and locales in that space.

And boy is India far from consistent and organized. I speak Punjabi and don’t speak Hindi. There are 50 other states and 50 other languages that are spoken.

> Africa on the other hand is a few dozen sovereign countries, without a common culture or language between them.

Not too far off as a description of the EU either.

There's definitely a lot to fix regarding the political climate, and I agree with your sentiment that it'll take a lon time. But I do believe growth would be exponential given the common markets (EU with a diverse, culture, India, China) to learn from.

as much as Africa is not a country, it's absolutely crucial to be able to scale across borders to be able to achieve VC returns here. In Africa, if you stay in one country with an idea that's not a basic need you have very little chance of doing over $500k in revenue.

Yup! In the exact same way that not many EU countries would realistically operate within 1 single country if they are VC funded. Just like EU VC funded companies, The african based companies inherently have to think on a global scale on the onset. Unlike in the US/China where it's okay to be US/China only

Why? $500,000 isn't too bad, if you only had to invest your share - which might only be $5,000. The numbers are smaller, but the percentages may be greater. The number of chances to invest may also be greater, as they will have fewer services already in place.

I don't see that they'd need to worry about international markets. At least not initially.

I can tell you have never been.

Checkout Nigeria, Namibia, South Africa.

These are powerhouses.

Nigeria, South Africa check out. Namibia?

Actually in West Africa and much of Arabian Africa we can communicate with one another in French.

Well, people were also talking about China like that for many years and even Napoleon already called them the "sleeping giant" (although probably in a militaristic context) and then suddenly, at the beginning of the 90s things started to take off.

>> My hypothesis is that Africa over the next two decades will look like India and China the previous two decades.

I agree with the basic idea, but Africa is way too over the place for that statement to apply at the level of the continent. Some countries will still be down and out due to their economical and political instability (there is really nothing in the cards today indicating that Nigeria or Congo, for example, will be significantly better 20 years from now), and on the other hand I would not be surprised if some countries would outdo the "China" metric and be considered developed first-world economies by then (in fact I would be surprised if it did NOT happen for a handful of them).

> there is really nothing in the cards today indicating that Nigeria or Congo, for example, will be significantly better 20 years from now...

I am a Nigerian and I think you are wrong. There is a lot of agitation in Nigeria especially from the young people and an imminent collapse of the old order. An Arab Spring like revolution is imminent. There is a bubbling spring of young and hungry talent on the continent there is a definite acknowledgement that things need to change fast.

That aside, despite the upbeat tone of the article, investment is still very hard to source in Africa despite the fact that the amounts required by the continents entrepreneurs are really small. Most founders require seed funding in the 10 -20k range. I am trying to solve this problem. Anyone interested in joining forces can pm me.

180 million people and the largest (and still growing) economy in Africa.

Nigeria seems like it could be a giant if it can only get out of its political woes. Isn't separatism/terrorism still a major issue? Does that impact daily life for the average person? My Nigerian friend never spoke of life being unsafe but that the government was corrupt wasn't really a question.

Nigeria IS a giant. It's the biggest economy in Africa by nominal GDP. However, it's probably also the most unequal place on earth. The wealth is incredibly concentrated with the oil and political elite, and they have a habit of spending a lot of their money abroad

India has pretty significant terrorist/separatist movements that you almost never hear about, such as the Naxalites, yet they don't seem to be threatening the Indian state as a whole. If such movements are peripheral to Nigeria then maybe they would be as much as a minor factor to development.

The separatist movement is a political maneuver to (re)gain lost political rights. Nigeria is not dividing in any of our life times. Terrorism is an issue I agree, but it has been confined to a small corner of the northwest for a while now.

>Nigeria is not dividing in any of our life times

"It's Difficult to Make Predictions, Especially About the Future" and more relevant: "Peace for our time".

Can't help but note that Arab Spring was an economic disaster for most countries involved. Be careful with what you wish for.

You have a point there I admit.

I wish you're right, but I do think it's going to take more than an Arab Spring type of event. I picked Nigeria as an example because it's such a big economy, yet almost all of the wealth is in the hands of a tiny minority. The country is divided according to religious lines, and there are deeply entrenched local interests, so if there's an uprising it's likely some "old hands" from the current regime will maneuver and place themselves in a more advantageous position, and true reform will not happen. Also it's a huge country population-wise, so to implement any meaningful change the inertia will be immense.

(Quick aside: I am realizing I am implicitly using China as a reference for economical improvement, but not India as also mentioned by GP post, simply because some segments of the population in India still live in a horrendous level of poverty, and I think true improvement necessarily implies the elimination of extreme poverty.)

To keep the Arab Spring as a point of comparison: it did succeed in Tunisia because the population (1) is educated and connected, and (2) had an homogeneous view of where it wanted to go (politically speaking). This meant that even if not all "pro-regime" forces were cleaned out they still had to take a back seat in the new regime (example: their police forces), and alternative political movements such as the islamists literally abandoned islamism after a few years. In contrast in Egypt it failed IMO because (1) 25 % of the population is illiterate, so is not educated/connected/informed all that much, (2) had differing views, with a major islamist movement in place (that historically had basically grandfather islamist terrorism), and (3) some major "pro-regime" forces (in this case the military) were not reformed/removed and still had all the resources and levers they needed to depose the new government whenever they felt like it. So in the end Egypt returned to military dictature as quickly as it had left it.

Again, I would really be happy to be wrong, but right now if a revolution happens, Nigeria is more on the "Egypt" end of the balance than on the "Tunisia" one. If we look at all the revolutions or major reforms that have happened since the 1980s, the successful ones have always happened where civil society was past some education threshold and had a good cohesion regarding its ideological worldview (basically nation-wide support for secular democracy and the rule of law). That was the case from South Korea to Taiwan to South America, so I don't see why it wouldn't apply to Nigeria as well. Note that I'm NOT saying that there are no people educated/informed enough, what I am saying is that because your country is so big and the disparity so large, there are A LOT of people who right now are not informed enough and way too removed from any political discourse to be enrolled in a cohesive reformist movement.

That being said my point was specifically for the short time-frame being discussed (within 20 years). I don't think such a huge country can navigate through such deep changes that quickly, but it's very possible that much of the preliminary work (such as getting the majority of the population on the same political page) can be accomplished by then. For example it's possible that because your educated youth is fed up, an anti-corruption advocate or national-level politician will gain significant prominence and start pushing the country in the right direction.

I'm hearing you out, but I grew up in Nigeria and have been hearing lots of stories from friends who are back there working in businesses and forward-thinking foundations, and I'm excited at the prospect that huge percentages of young people will soon overwhelm the status quo with new thinking. I know business alone can't solve all the problems but I'm amazed at the sheer numbers of new startups I've been hearing about:






I didn't even know till I searched just now that Lagos already has online grocery delivery! It's been quite a few years since I was living there and incredibly hard for me to imagine. :)

pm'ed you, also a software developer who increasingly been thinking of doing something in Africa

how can you pm here? I want to enter Africa too!

email in my profile.

I hope that company or those companies are truly African and not some neocolonial abomination essentially owned by foreign investment.

The excitement of Africa is the chance at something new - why not something local, sustainable, and not prey to the walled gardens and greed of the West? The idea of something uniquely African is far more exciting than SV Tech: A Foreign Adventure.

That's how China and India got their growth. They didn't bootstrap. Taking foreign investment is not some kind of sin against Che Guevara, but simply the best way for a country with cheap labor and visible growth potential to get richer.

Some flavor of neo-colonialism is possible, but I'd bet the biggest threat to African development comes from bad governance rather than the outside.

Africans have ingenuity and local knowledge. The developed world has cash and business know-how. So long as corrupt government officials can be avoided, there's a chance that there can be a symbiotic relationship.

Just curious how you sourced your Ensibukko investment. AngelList? Or direct relationship with the company?

And I agree, Africa is hot hot hot ;)

> Just curious how you sourced your Ensibukko investment. AngelList? Or direct relationship with the company?

Like all good investors, I know people. :)

Investors will feed you crap about being value-add, experience, help with sales, help with hiring, etc, etc. But good investors know people and bad investors don’t know people. They call it “proprietary deal flow”, but it just means that they know people.

> Just curious how you sourced your Ensibukko investment....

I'd like to know the answer to this too.

I have been working for the last 5 years to help investors access "proprietary" deal flow. I am from Nigeria but live stateside.

I launched this recently to help with the discovery problem diasporavc.com

FYI: Ensibukko is a company I like very much

And they should be. It's a big continent with lots of people a growing middle class and lots of room for all sorts of development. Im sure there will be some pushback about foreigners investing and making money off locals, but that's kind of the price of progress. Someone has to be the miss moneybags, be it locals or non locals.

Africa's population is projected to ~quadruple to approx 4 billion by 2100 (will have almost as many people as Asia at this point), and will account for most of the world's population growth to 2050 (1.3 bil+). [1] It's a huge opportunity, and good luck to anyone who can provide value for the burgeoning population.

[1] https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/Key_Findings_...

Considering how most African countries already have huge problems to provide even basic needs to already existing population, I can't see how that is a good thing. It seems to me that Africa does not lack headcount now, it lacks stable society and opportunities to emancipate vast masses of dirt poor people...

I agree. Out of control population growth can of course be spun as an economic opportunity, but it first and foremost feels like a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen. Not only for Africa, but for the world at large.

On the bright side, economic investment, growth & development might be one of the best ways to eventually curb said population growth.

Except as countries get richer, they have fewer kids. Expecting the population to continue growing at a break neck pace, as well as have bug economic improvements per capita seem to be competing ideas

I think it is a little short-sighted to see local investment as the only path to a positive outcome. Assuming employees are getting a decent equity stake then what would be even more impactful in my opinion would be some exits that enable local staff to start angel investing and supporting the ecosystem. If there becomes a strong incentive for good talent to stay in Africa, make decent money and invest back then the fact that the current up and coming startups are backed by foreigners will matter little in the future. Overall I think the potential upside of any successful is huge and the more foreign money that can kickstart this the better.

The obvious solution would be for foreigners to co-invest with local VCs/Angels. I think if investors have an eye toward making these kinds of investments in a sustainable and ethical way, it is definitely possible.

88mph, probably the largest angel fund in Africa in recent times, did this successfully in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Results are yet to be determined

(disclaimer: I am an investee of 88mph)

It depends on the amount of bureaucracy (bureaucracy fosters working with locals who can navigate the system) as well as the trade barriers they might face. Not just vis a vis extra African countries but within Africa you can face lots of trade barriers.

The best way to know what demand for a product is to ask yourself, "What do I need?" The people who know what demand is in Africa are people in Africa who ask that question. We can't answer it in San Jose. The solutions to their problems will come from within.

Other countries can help. "What do I need?" Answer:"scalable, mobile first (only) blah blah." If you don't know any of that, the how's, you can get outside help. Hopefully outside mentorship that comes from outside money.

Very encouraging to see this level of interest in investing in African startups from SV investors and not just from traditional impact investors.

There is an incredible amount of opportunity to build mobile digital services targeted at markets where offline functionality is a must and low-end Android devices are the norm. Hopefully the interest and investment in fintech will also mean that payments infrastructure will continue to improve and get relatively cheaper over time.

Reading some of the overly negative comments, I'd like to add some perspective. Africa might not make sense to compare to India and China earlier, but I like to often compare it to another troubled region, the middle east.

We have seen far more positive developments towards democracy in Africa than in the middle east. Military conflicts in Africa seems to be winding down, while they just seem to get worse in the middle east.

More religious diversity, not just Islam, I think is a gain for Africa. I don't think they will get bogged down in religious extremism as in the middle east.

To those who claim unified India and China as such a big advantage. I think being unified has just short term advantages, but lots of longer term problems. Look at Europe. A key reason Europe sped past China in the past, was because it was NOT UNIFIED. No single stupid leader could ruin European progress. It worked like a free market of ideas where bad ideas get weeded out. In China you had emperors who would declare that going overseas is bad. And then with a brush stroke, an area the size of a continent stops trading or exploring overseas completely, leaving that to the European upstarts.

The advantage of Africa being divided is that it provides a big sandbox to experiment with what works and what doesn't. We see many smaller countries have success like Rwanda. This allows other countries to evaluate what works and copy good ideas and discard bad ones.

Another key advantage today, is that we are passed the naive western aid of the past. Today we got China making big investments in infrastructure, mines etc getting the economies going. And I think it is a positive thing with all the people they are sending in as it allows Africans to learn from other countries how they work and do things. China not being as developed as the west is probably an advantage as it is easier to understand each other.

Western countries are so far ahead that we often have no clue about how to operate or do business in less developed countries. We make a lot of stupid assumptions, which only work in modern well developed economies. I think the Chinese understand a lot better of to get things working in Africa.

And finally lets not forget another advantage. Unlike the middle east, African countries can take advantage of their heritage of English and French from colonial times, which makes it easier for them to connect to the global economy.

> More religious diversity, not just Islam, I think is a gain for Africa. I don't think they will get bogged down in religious extremism as in the middle east.

The biggest religion in Africa isn't islam, it's Christianity. Meanwhile, the biggest religion in Asia is Islam and it does just fine. The middle east's problem's aren't religious, they're political. Nationalism and geopolitical conflicts get wrapped into the most convenient us vs them wrappingpaper available, in the middle east it's often religion. But let's be frank here, Saudi Arabia and Iran aren't in conflict because they believe in a radically different way of religious life.

Your stuff about unification conveniently skips over the part where China sped past every other poor country in large part because it was unified and could move in one direction.

Rwanda is tricky... it's probably home to the absolute worst tragedy in my lifetime. 70% of a peoples was eradicated. Beyond that, it's still dirt-poor, 90% of the population is engaged in subsistence farming, 80% live on less than $3 a day, 60% less than $1.90. I assume you're referencing to economic growth which has been really nice, but it's tricky to see it separate from the foreign aid which represents 30-40% of the budget. It's not particularly hard to improve income levels from $1.90 a day to $2 if you're pouring in $100 of foreign aid per person per year and lots more financing. (a great playing ground for Chinese companies to build an economy indeed.)

Beyond that, there are 25 different countries who've had at least 75% of the average growth rate of Rwanda in the past 10 years, its economic growth has been great but things have actually gotten quite a bit better in Africa across the board. When Rwanda's foreign aid was temporarily cut a few years ago after accusations of aiding rebels the growth rate halved.

I don't see the Rwanda (0.9% of Africa's population) necessarily as a model for the rest (99.1%) of Africa.

Agreed on all your other points.

Lots of very promising ideas here.

I particularly like this one: http://twigafoods.com/

We're so focused on solving the middle class problems in my country (India) that we've forgotten about the problems lower class people serving the middle class go through.

Could they put solar panels everywhere in Africa and sell power to other continents by undersea cables like internet that would be interesting.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14961780 and marked it off-topic.

I thought that actually was the more common term - Google shows more results for "miss moneybags" than "mr moneybags" and "mister moneybags" combined. Am I wrong?

edit: I am wrong. I didn't use quotes.

Hey at least our colonialism isn't gendered anymore!

One step at a time.

Don't worry east Asia has the diversification of colonialism in good hands.

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