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Prospect of Wagner’s Growing Influence in Africa Worries Western Powers

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Burkina Faso Russian Flag Wagner

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

Some Western powers, including France, have expressed serious concerns over the prospect of a private military contractor with close ties to the Kremlin, the Wagner group, cementing its influence in Africa.

At the recently-concluded US-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, DC, the President of Ghana, Mr Nana Akufo-Addo, made a genuine claim about neighbouring Burkina Faso during the panel discussions on Peace, Security and Governance in Washington.

Speaking about the growing violence linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in the west African region, Mr Akufo-Addo alleged that Burkina Faso allocated a mine to the Wagner Group as a form of payment for its deployment of fighters in the country.

“To have (Wagner) operating on our northern border is particularly distressing for us in Ghana,” a former Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Ghanaian leader Nana Akufo-Addo informed at the summit.

“Today, Russian mercenaries are on our northern border. Burkina Faso has now entered into an arrangement to go along with Mali in employing the Wagner forces there,” he said, adding that Burkina Faso had ceded a mine, reportedly with gold reserves, near the border with Ghana in exchange for the group’s services to deal with the militant insurgency that began in 2015. In recent weeks, hundreds of people fleeing militants attacks in Burkina Faso have crossed the border into northern Ghana.

Burkina Faso has summoned the Ghanaian ambassador for ‘explanations’ after Ghana’s president alleged that Burkina Faso had hired the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, according to reports from Burkina’s Foreign Ministry. Burkina Faso has further recalled its ambassador from Ghana for a meeting, a spokesperson at the ministry told Reuters.

Nana Akufo-Addo’s comments came on the heels of a trip to Moscow by Burkina Faso’s Prime Minister, Apollinaire Joachim Kyelem de Tambela, to further strengthen Russia-Burkina relations.

The visit was planned to “consolidate the international community’s efforts in combating the terrorist threat” in the region, said a statement made available on the official website by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Earlier this month, a new mining concession was given to Nordgold, a Russian mining company which has been operating in Burkina Faso for more than a decade. A permit for industrial exploration was granted to the Nordgold Yimiougou SA company in Sanmatenga province, said a statement from Burkina Faso’s Council of Ministers.

The four-year agreement is estimated to contribute some $8 billion (£6.5bn) to the state budget. Burkina Faso is one of the largest gold producers on the continent. Nordgold and the Wagner Group are Russian companies, although there is no known connection between them.

For several years Burkina Faso has been struggling to stem jihadi violence that has killed thousands, displaced nearly two million people and made swaths of land inaccessible. Lack of faith in the Burkina Faso government’s ability to contain the jihadi insurgency has led to two coups this 2022.

After the latest coup in September, the Wagner Group was among the first to congratulate the new junta leader, Ibrahim Traore, raising questions about his relationship with Russia and how big a role it played in catapulting him to power. People with close ties to Burkina Faso’s ruling junta said pressure had been mounting on the leader of the first coup, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba, for months to work more closely with Russia, but he had refused.

Reacting to this issue, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Anne-Claire Legendre, told a news conference that Paris and its European partners continued to be available to cooperate with Burkinabe authorities if they wished and without ambiguity in what she described as a worsening security and humanitarian situation.

“With regard to Wagner, our message is well known; Wagner has distinguished itself in Africa by a policy of plundering, which harms the sovereignty of states,” she said, Reuters reported from Paris. “The Wagner militia has distinguished itself, particularly in Mozambique, the Central African Republic, and Mali; this is obviously known to the Burkinabè authorities.”

The Western nations believe that the presence of Wagner in Africa was harmful as the group exploits mineral resources and commits human rights abuses in countries where it operates.

The pace of Islamic extremist violence is increasing in Burkina Faso and getting closer to the capital, Ouagadougou, which could make the desperate junta welcome support from the Russian mercenaries, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory. “This could have significant negative implications for Burkina Faso and the region,” he said. “Wagner mercenaries have operated with impunity, and they are unlikely to be held accountable for any human rights violations.”

Most leading global media, including Associated Press (AP), Cable News Network (CNN), Agence France-Presse (AFP), British Broadcasting (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), Reuters, Al Jazeera and many others, well-noted for their comprehensive and verified coverage of geopolitical changes and developments shaping or affecting daily lives in the world, have also informed the public about Wagner Group being hired or deployed in Burkina Faso.

In all the reports, the main message concerns the indelible fact Burkina Faso contracts shadowy Russian mercenaries to fight against jihadist insurgency. Across the Sahel region, neighbours feared the jihadist insurgency might spread further down from Burkina Faso to coastal neighbours, including Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo and Benin. Nigeria is already consistently fighting Boko Haram and other militant groups.

Associated Press reporter Sam Mednick from Dakar, Senegal, with his colleague Elise Morton from London, wrote in their joint news report that Burkina Faso residents expressed scepticism at the Ghanaian president’s comments and said the junta was trying to diversify partnerships.

“We have the capacity to defend ourselves without outside help if we have the required equipment. Burkina Faso collaborates with states, not with mercenaries,” said Mamadou Drabo, Executive Secretary for Save Burkina, a civil society group that supports the junta.

Edward Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow and professor of World Politics at Moscow State University, wrote in an email interview that “there has not been too much information about Russia’s activities in Africa, but the Western media is saturated with the scary stories about Russia’s efforts to bolster its presence in at least 14 countries across Africa by building relations with existing rulers, striking military deals, and grooming a new generation of leaders and undercover agents.”

Further to the narratives, Russia has now embarked on fighting “neo-colonialism,” which it considers a stumbling block on its way to regaining a part of the Soviet-era multifaceted influence in Africa. Russia has sought to convince Africans over the past years of the likely dangers of neo-colonial tendencies perpetrated by the former colonial countries and the scramble for resources on the continent. But all such warnings largely seem to fall on deaf ears as African leaders choose development partners with funds to invest in the economy.

Vedomosti, a Russian daily Financial and Business newspaper, reported that Russia is interested in offering Sahel countries military equipment in exchange for exploiting the untapped minerals resources. Worth noting here that Russia, in its strategy on Africa, is reported to be looking into building military bases on the continent.

In late October, President Vladimir Putin participated in the final plenary session of the 19th meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, the focus was on matters related to the changing geopolitics, the new world order and its future developments. He discussed, at considerable length, so many controversial questions.

According to him, Russia still has friends around the world and mentioned that in central America and Africa, the ‘Russian flags’ are flying everywhere. Putin, along the line, argued that the support for multipolar order largely exists in the Global South, appreciated Africa’s struggle for independence and now rising against growing neo-colonialism. Russia has good relations with African countries, these absolutely unique relations were forged during the years when the Soviet Union and Russia supported African countries in their fight for freedom.

Despite these widely published allegations about Burkina Faso, Russia has demonstrated wide interest in making drastic steps toward penetrating the G5 Sahel in West Africa. The G5 Sahel are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Russia is broadening its geography of military diplomacy covering poor African countries and especially fragile States that need Russia’s military assistance.

Russian Foreign Ministry has oftentimes explained in statements released on its website that Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries is primarily directed at settling regional conflicts and preventing the spread of terrorist threats, and fighting the growing terrorism in the continent.

Over the past several years, strengthening military-technical cooperation has been a key part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation. Russia has signed a bilateral military-technical cooperation agreement with nearly 14 African countries.

The South African Journal of International Affairs has published a special report on Russia-Africa. It said, in part, heading into the 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg (unless the proposed date and venue change, again), Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American and Chinese influence.

The report titled – Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact – says that Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is driven by its quest for global power status. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to countries with which it has security partnerships.

While Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to gain a strategic foothold in partner countries successfully, the lack of transparency in interactions, the limited scope of impact and the high financial and diplomatic costs exposes the limitations of the partnership in addressing the peace and development challenges of African host countries, the report says.

The report authored by Ovigwe Eguegu, a Beijing-based Nigerian Researcher on Politics and International Affairs, focused on the use of private military companies to carry out ‘military diplomacy’ in African states, and the main research questions were: What impact is Russia’s private military diplomacy in Africa having on host countries’ peace and development? Why has Russia chosen military diplomacy as the preferred means to gain a foothold on the continent?

His report was based on more than 80 media publications dealing with Russia’s military-technical cooperation in Africa. It interrogates whether fragile African states advance their security, diplomatic and economic interests through a relationship with Russia.

Overcoming the multidimensional problems facing Libya, Sudan, Somali, Mali, and the Central African Republic will require comprehensive peace and development strategies that include conflict resolution and peacebuilding, state-building, security sector reform, and profound political reforms to improve governance and the rule of law – not to mention sound economic planning critical for attracting foreign direct investment needed to spur economic growth.

The United Nations (UN), The African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the entire international community have expressed collective concerns about any use of private mercenary forces instead of well-constituted regional forces approved by regional blocs, as a means to address conflicts in Africa.

The G5 Sahel are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. And Burkina Faso, per well-known geographical description, is a landlocked country in West Africa with an area of 274,200 km2, bordered by Mali to the northwest, Niger to the northeast, Benin to the southeast, Togo and Ghana to the south, and Ivory Coast to the southwest.

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Participants to Explore Future of Alternative Energy Solutions at MEE

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Middle East Energy MEE alternative energy solutions

By Adedapo Adesanya

Middle East Energy, the leading energy industry event in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, will make its anticipated return to the Dubai World Trade Centre on March 7—9, 2023, to guide energy transition conversations across the globe.

The event, which is the 48th of its kind, is organised by Informa Markets, the leading global exhibitions organiser. It will bring together buyers and sellers from across different countries to explore the latest advancements in energy products and solutions.

The programme will provide opportunities to network with international energy suppliers, discover products and solutions that are changing the energy landscape, and build long-lasting business relationships.

Speaking on this, Mr Ade Yesufu, Exhibition Manager, Middle East Energy, said, “Over the years, Middle East Energy has supported the global energy community to find solutions that empower the rapid acceleration of electricity consumption across the Middle East and other parts of the world.

“This year, the aim is to advance the conversations in light of the current global reality and changes in the energy industry. This event also brings together the highest level of decision-makers and international partners to connect and discover innovative products and solutions that can deliver cleaner energy and supply sustainable power.”

With over 800 exhibiting companies representing 170 countries and a 20,000+ global audience, participants will explore insights on the future of alternative energy solutions that will help in delivering more efficient and effective power systems.

This edition of Middle East Energy will focus on five key product sections that are leading the way in the energy transition: Smart Solutions, Renewable & Clean Energy, Backup Generators & Critical Power, Transmission & Distribution, and Energy Consumption & Management.

Middle East Energy will also feature strategic conferences and content arenas focusing on the latest technologies and products to provide a platform for knowledge sharing, support relationship building, and uncover solutions to some of the most pressing challenges posed by the energy transition.

These include CEO roundtables, technical sessions, and the Intersolar Conference, which will bring together global policymakers, utilities, developers, financiers, and technology leaders across three days to create the blueprint for a successful energy transition across the Middle East and Africa.

The confirmed panellists include: Licypriya Kangujam, an 11-year-old climate activist; Mr Raphael Mworia, Commercial Director, KETRACO – Kenya Electricity Transmission Company Ltd; Mr Abraham Serem, Acting Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, KenGen – Kenya Electricity Generating Company; and Mr Abdulaziz Al Naim, CEO, Saudi Power Company;

Others include Dr Joseph Oketch, Director – Electricity and Renewable Energy, Energy & Petroleum Regulatory Authority, Kenya; Mrs Leila Benali, Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development, Kingdom of Morocco; Mr Azhar Hussain, Principal Investment Officer, International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Other conferences include The Technical Seminar, an interactive forum for the world’s leading energy experts and technical minds to discuss and explore the innovations and technologies driving the energy transition and Intersolar Middle East, a gathering of solar and renewable energy industry professionals in the MEA region to discuss the transformative dynamics of renewable energies around the world.

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Janet Yellen: United States Focuses on Business Investment and Infrastructure Development in Africa

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Janet Yellen

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

United States officials, at least, are strategically moving to reset multi-dimensional relations with Africa after the last African leaders’ summit held in Washington. President Joseph Bidden and Vice President Kamala Harris, in well-coordinated working agenda, with the White House, the Department of African Affairs and the US Treasury, are up to the task. This challenging task is backed by a $55 billion budget publicly announced during the African leaders’ gathering.

It all began with a series of working visits to Africa in late December and early 2023, which underscored the message delivered by Biden at the last summit: “The United States is all in on Africa, and all in with Africa.” The $55 billion budget and along with private sector investment for Africa, well-built institutionalized structures and the African-American diaspora, are distinctively linking together the United States and Africa.

On January 20, the US Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, went on a 10-day trip to three African countries that aimed to revitalize and expand US-African ties and address challenges such as climate change, food security and debt in Africa. After decades in which China has dominated investment on the continent, the US is pitching itself as a more sustainable alternative. In the sub-Sahara, Yellen visited Senegal, Zambia and South Africa.

That will be followed by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who travelled to three Republics of Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya starting Jan. 25 and another round trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken official visits to Eastern Western and Southern Africa.

In Dakar, Yellen had extensive and fruitful discussions with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is also the rotating Chair of the African Union. The African Union is a 55-member continental organization with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. With President Macky Sall, she highlighted the United States’ efforts to boost economic ties with the region “by expanding trade and investment flows,” according to official reports.

Later, she also interacted with Senegal’s Minister of Economy, International Planning, and Cooperation, Oulimata Sarr, who, like Yellen, is also the first woman to serve in her current role. In a meeting with Finance Minister Mamadou Moustapha Ba, Yellen said the two officials had “much to discuss on how best to meet the challenges both of our countries face, including in the context of global financial tightening and an increasingly uncertain global economic environment. The U.S. is committed to working with Africa to realize that promise because we know that a stronger African economy is good for the world and good for the United States.”

In a speech delivered at a business event in Senegal’s capital Dakar, Yellen mapped out the United States’ vision for strengthening African relations, eyeing the massive economic opportunities created by its demographic boom.

Currently, Senegal is participating in a G-20 programme that helps finance a shift from fossil fuels to clean power generation, it’s also on the verge of becoming a significant fossil-fuel producer. A new offshore project straddling its border with Mauritania is projected to bring Senegal $1.4 billion in oil and gas revenue from 2023 to 2025. The project may also provide Europe with energy relief as it turns away from Russian gas and oil.

Reports indicated that Treasury Yellen gave the concrete go-ahead on the rural electrification project in Senegal. The new rural electrification project is estimated to bring reliable power to 350,000 people while supporting some 500 jobs in 14 American States.

Our monitoring shows that Yellen travelled to the site of the project, headed by Illinois-based engineering firm Weldy Lamont. The new project received technical assistance from the US Power Africa initiative, capacity building through the US Agency for Trade and Development, and a $102.5 million loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank.

“Our goal is to deepen our economic relationship further and to invest in expanding energy access in a way that uses renewable resources spread across the continent,” Ms Yellen underlined in her remarks. Senegal has among the highest rates of electrification across Sub-Saharan Africa – between 70% and 80% – but access to electricity remains far more limited in rural areas.

Such disparities can hinder opportunities for households and businesses in areas otherwise ripe for economic development, Yellen said. The project includes an important renewable energy element with a solar grid to power 70 villages. “This groundbreaking will create a higher quality of life in many communities, and it will help Senegal’s economy grow and prosper. It will also help Senegal get one step closer to its goal of universal electricity access by 2025,” she said.

Yellen, who met women and youth entrepreneurs in Dakar, said the electrification project would allow Senegal to rely on energy sources that are within its borders, cost-effective and not prone to the kind of volatility in energy prices sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US Power Africa project has helped connect 165 million people to reliable electricity across Africa. Its goal is to add at least 30,000 megawatts (MW) of cleaner and more reliable electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections by 2030.

Yellen then travelled to Zambia to meet President Hakainde Hichilema as well as other finance officials. President Hichilema, who took office in 2021, has promised to restore the copper-rich nation’s credibility and creditworthiness after inheriting a cash-strapped economy. Here, she spoke on efforts to improve global health and prepare for future pandemics, as well as on food production.

Yellen cited $11 billion in commitments by the US Development Finance Corp and $3 billion in programmes by the Millennium Challenge Corp in 14 African countries, with more in the pipeline. On a wider scale, the G7 group of wealthy Western nations also planned to mobilise some $600 billion for global infrastructure investments over the next five years.

“We are saying that African countries firmly belong at the table. Their communities are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of global challenges. And any serious solution requires African leadership and African voices,” she said.

In South Africa, which recently assumed the chairmanship of the BRICS emerging economies group, Yellen held talks with Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana and South Africa Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago. She also visited the Ford assembly plant to showcase successful examples of US-Africa economic relations.

Washington provided about $13 billion in emergency aid and food assistance last year and was now setting up a US-Africa strategic partnership to address the short-term food needs of more than 300 million Africans, Yellen said. It is also helping to build more resilient and sustainable systems for the future.

In practical terms, Yellen focused on building relationships and understanding the barriers to investment and business in Africa. Our monitoring shows that Chinese trade with Africa is about four times that of the United States, and Beijing rapidly expanded its lending by offering cheaper loans, although the opaque terms and collateral requirements are now being questioned by some African countries.

The United States is currently looking to broaden investment in South Africa, which is developing new legislation to speed up energy projects. There are a number of external players showing interest in the energy sector; these include Russia, China, United Arab Emirates and others in the Arab world.

Former US ambassador Susan Page told AFP that despite positive developments like the major summit in Washington last year, “the proof is in the pudding” when it comes to pledges of support for African countries. “Are they really going to come up with the serious money… Or is it going to be a trade-off?” asked Page, now a professor at the University of Michigan. She added that while US moves have been largely framed as countering China’s advances, it “is a shame because African countries want to be treated as Africa, and not as a wedge between great power competition.”

Joseph Siegle, who leads the Africa Center for Strategic Studies research programme, said the scope of Yellen’s visit was far broader than the matter of China’s influence. “From an emerging market standpoint, there is a lot going on there – with its resources and growth and a large African diaspora in the US. Arguably, the US has not paid enough attention to Africa with the rigour that’s warranted,” he said. “I think the significance of this trip is trying to rectify there hasn’t been enough high-level engagement on the part of the US in Africa.”

In fact, despite criticisms especially over neo-colonialism and unipolarism, the United States and Africa are culturally, and by biological blood, inseparable. According to the latest World Bank report, remittances from the African diaspora to the continental was $49 billion in 2021.

With rivals China and Russia competing for influence and opportunity in Africa, the United States has been working to stave off an erosion of its once-powerful position in the region. But as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen strongly noted, the histories of the United States and Africa were “intimately connected” by the “tragedy” of slavery, as Washington seeks to strengthen relations with the continent. Speaking at Goree Island off the Senegalese capital of Dakar, the largest slave trading centre on the African coast.

For their part, many African countries say they are keen on increased investment and financial support for infrastructure development across Africa. And that Africa is only ready for potential credible investors and not for active anti-American sloganeers and ideological choristers. Africa is not a field for confrontation but for cooperating on transforming the economy and operating the single continental market.

In the emerging multipolar world, the United States still shares cultural values and democratic principles with Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade is an integral part of both American and African history. The United States is their second home, nowhere else. The United States and Africa are ‘intimately connected’ by slavery, have culturally indivisible bondage, and currently, with the growing African-American diaspora, it is completely absurd and awkward for external geopolitical rival countries to ask African leaders and Africans to abandon their history and the United States.

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United States and Africa: Increased Engagement Regarding Trade Creating Opportunities in AfCFTA

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United States AfCFTA

By Virusha Subban

There was more good news for the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement in December 2022, when a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the United States (US) Trade Representative and the AfCFTA Secretariat at the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit (Summit) in Washington DC. The MoU covers expanded engagement between the two regions and intends to “promote equitable, sustainable, and inclusive trade; boost competitiveness; and attract investment to the continent.”

It was also announced at the Summit that the US intended to invest $55 billion in Africa over the next three years and that $15 billion would be deployed in “two-way trade and investment commitments, deals, and partnerships that advance key priorities, including sustainable energy, health systems, agribusiness, digital connectivity, infrastructure, and finance.”

The trade partnership between the US and Africa has been strengthening for some time. In July 2021, the Biden Administration announced that it would renew the US Prosper Africa initiative, started in 2019, with a focus on increasing reciprocal trade and investment between the US and African countries.

At the time, the US said that the initiative would focus on improving trade and investment in sectors such as infrastructure, energy and climate solutions, healthcare and technology. Seventeen US government agencies working as part of this initiative were given a mandate to, among other things, empower African businesses, offer deal support and connect investors from the US with those in Africa. The renewed Prosper Africa initiative also focuses on projects that support women and small and medium enterprises in Africa. It was further announced at the December 2022 Summit that, through the Prosper Africa initiative, plans were being made to boost African exports to the US by $1 billion through investments and partnerships and to mobilise an additional $1 billion in US investment in Africa.

The US has often expressed its support for AfCFTA, stating that it wants to see the growth of Africa’s economic power in the world. All future trade agreements signed between the US and African countries will have to align with AfCFTA’s trade stipulations and, considering the Biden Administration’s environmental stance, new agreements will likely also include climate change provisions and tariffs on high-carbon imports.

The Administration has also been focusing on trade agreements that don’t disadvantage US businesses and consumers. In July 2022, the US-Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) was signed, outlining the enhanced engagement and high standard of commitment between the two countries, and focusing on increased investment and sustainable and inclusive growth that will be of benefit to both countries’ citizens and businesses.

The agreement also included the intention to support regional economic integration in East Africa. Further reciprocal bilateral and regional trade agreements between the US and African countries are expected to be signed in the near future. Such agreements are expected to eventually replace the non-reciprocal African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which allows duty- and quota-free exports from eligible African countries into the US and which is due to expire in 2025.

Trade between the two regions is steadily rising. At the Summit, the Biden Administration noted that since 2021, the US has assisted in closing more than 800 two-way trade and investment deals worth around USD 18 billion across 47 African countries. In addition, the value of private investment deals from the US into Africa since 2021 is valued at $8.6 billion.  The US focus on increased engagement and continued trade and investment in Africa has clearly already led to an increase in trade and investment opportunities in both regions.

Virusha Subban is the Partner Specialising in Customs and Trade, and Head of the Tax Practice at Baker McKenzie Johannesburg

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