Morocco – High Speed Train

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The fastest train in Africa is expected to boost the country’s economic development, but critics say the investment could have been better spent elsewhere.

Engineers in Morocco are preparing to test Africa’s first high-speed railway with trains reaching 320km (200 miles) per hour, the country’s rail office said on October 9th.

One train reached 275 kph (170 mph) on the 9th along a stretch of track between the northern cities of Kenitra and Tangiers, the national operator ONCF said.

“This is already the fastest train on the African continent,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was in Morocco to sign a loan deal between the ONCF and the French Development Agency.

The link between Casablanca and Tangiers via the capital Rabat will slash journey times between the North African country’s economic hubs by almost two thirds, to just over two hours.

Morocco’s TGV, which gets its name from the French abbreviation for high-speed trains, is set to enter service in summer 2018.

The total cost of the project, 50% financed by France through various loans, is around $2.4bn (€2bn). It is set to go around 15% over budget, according to figures released on October 9th.

But ONCF head Rabii Lakhlii said the project had cost “less than €9m per kilometre, compared to a European standard of €20m per kilometre”.

The route, made more complex by hilly terrain and strong winds, required the building of several viaducts including one some 3.5km long.

The ONCF is targeting 6m travellers a year after three years of operations. Lakhlii said tickets would cost about 30% more than those for the current rail link.

Moroccan leaders have heralded the project as a key step in modernising the country’s infrastructure.

But opponents have criticised it, saying the money could have been better spent in a country where many live in poverty. They also argue that it unfairly favoured French companies.

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A carriage of the French-made TGV train arrives at the Moroccan port of Tangier in January – CNN

Speculate to accumulate

High-speed trains fit within a wider programme of infrastructure spending in Morocco that is intended to stimulate a sluggish economy.

The Tangiers-Casablanca route is expected to generate a sharp increase in passenger numbers that will boost tourism, support wider economic growth in the cities, and recoup the investment on it.

Rabii Lakhlii also said that growing passenger numbers had caused “saturation of the network,” making the new line a necessity.

He denied that an upgraded service would lead to high costs for passengers.


Risk and reward

The new trains carry risks as well as rewards, according to Zouhair Ait Benhamou, an economic analyst at the Financia Business School in France.

“The ONCF business model is based on the French model in which trains are heavily subsidised,” he says. “If the number of passengers does not materialise in two to three years, the government will have to provide subsidies.”

The government will hope to stimulate new economic activity in areas along the route, according to the analyst.

The new train line will impress foreign investors but they are likely to remain wary of Morocco, according to Riccardo Fabiani, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group.

Poor governance, corruption and a severely under-performing education system reflect the priorities of a government which is comfortable with uneven development, he believes.


Not all aboard

Such disparities have fueled the “Stop TGV” campaign, a coalition of activists arguing that the investment could be better used for failing public services.

“Morocco is a poor country and the top priority should be education,” says Omar Balafraj, a leader campaigner and MP for the Federation of the Democratic Left party.

The country’s northern Rif region has been rocked by unrest since protest over the death of a fisherman in October 2016 snowballed into a wider social movement demanding development for the long-impoverished region. (© AFP 10/10 2017; CNN 20/1)

Sudan – US Sanctions Lifted

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The move will give Sudan access to the global banking system but President al-Bashir remains a war crimes suspect. Sudan stays on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The United States (US) announced on October 6th that it would end its toughest economic and trade sanctions against Sudan in a week’s time, citing progress the Khartoum government has made in fighting terrorism and easing humanitarian hardships.

Sudan has also agreed not to seek arms deals with North Korea, Deutsche Welle noted.

Human rights groups opposed the deal but it was a process that was started under former President Barack Obama.

The sanctions, which included a trade embargo and other penalties, essentially cut off Sudan from most of the global financial system for the past 20 years.

Explaining the end of the sanctions, US officials said the authoritarian regime had maintained a cessation of hostilities in Darfur and other old flashpoints.

However, President Omar al-Bashir remains a war-crimes suspect. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on genocide charges for allegedly orchestrating a mass killing in Darfur.

And Sudan is still on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Syria and Iran. This means the US ban on weapons sales remains in force, as do restrictions on US aid.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said it was looking forward to building “a normal relation with the US, but wants its name to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism as there is no reason to have Sudan in that list.”

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President Omar al-Bashir listens to a speech during the opening of the 20th session of The New Partnership for Africa’s Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – CC 2009


International support

On September 4th, Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz told Reuters that his country had “fulfilled all the necessary conditions relating to the roadmap” set out by the US, and therefore expected the sanctions to be lifted.

Khartoum had already won significant international support for this claim, with Israel and Saudi Arabia busy lobbying on its behalf. And back in July, the United Nations (UN) Country Team in Sudan called for Washington to take a “positive decision” on the sanctions, saying there had been a “marked improvement in humanitarian access over the past six months.”

However, civilians in Darfur still face “violence and criminality”, the UN’s then-head of peacekeeping told the Security Council in January. Hervé Ladsous pointed in particular to the “widespread proliferation of weapons and the inadequacy of law and justice institutions.”


‘Progress’ on human rights?

Human rights activists have warned that lifting the sanctions will embolden Sudan and other states to continue committing atrocities, according to IRIN.

There is little evidence of a major improvement in the country’s human rights record, even though this is one of five areas of progress cited by Washington in justifying the lifting of the sanctions.

In a recent report, the US State Department cited “attacks on civilians by government and other armed groups in conflict zones” as well as extrajudicial killings, torture, and rape, all committed with impunity by intelligence agents.

Reducing internal wars was another US benchmark, but armed conflict continues to simmer in the regions of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan, where humanitarian access remains very restricted. It seems the US decision to lift sanctions is more closely linked to Khartoum’s role in global counter-terrorism and its recent cutting of ties with Pyongyang.

Commenting on the decision, John Prendergast, Founding Director at the Enough Project, said the Trump administration should now create a completely new policy framework which aims to address the core issues that led the regime to be sanctioned in the first place.

This new policy framework should be tied to a new set of smart, modernised network sanctions that spare the Sudanese public and target those in power responsible for mass atrocities, he said.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

SUDAN: Humanitarian Push
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21747A–21747B

SUDAN: ‘Closed Chapter?’
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21491A–21492C

SUDAN: Darfur Security Assessment
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21480A–21481B

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Africa – African Green Revolution Forum

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The future of Africa’s agriculture looked brighter in September as leaders from across the continent converged in Abidjan to discuss strategies for industrialising agriculture.

At the 7th African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), held in the Ivorian capital between September 4th-8th at the behest of the African Development Bank (AfDB), African political leaders offered solutions and discussed challenges to the continental green agenda.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called for proper land management strategies for agriculture. Insisting that forestry and mining were increasingly competing for agricultural land, she called for efforts to make African agricultural land more economically productive.

Ivorian President Allassane Ouattara said the continent’s agricultural progress was hampered greatly by the impact of climate change and appealed to western nations to support measures to contain it.

President Ouattara said the Bank’s “High Five,” which puts agriculture as central to achieving Africa’s industrialisation agenda, has helped to make agriculture central to government plans.

In Cote d’Ivoire, President Ouattara said agriculture contributed 16% of GDP, with at least 60% of the population living on agriculture.

President Ouattara said the fact that more people depended on a sector whose contribution to the national economy was still minimal, meant the challenge of growing agriculture still remained.

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Women tea pickers in Kenya – CC 2010

The African leaders emphasised the need for the agriculture sector to generate more jobs for youth to stop the mass exodus out of Africa.

The AfDB is advocating closer linkages between development partners and policy-makers to enhance the informal sector’s contribution to building an African food and cuisine value chain.

The Bank’s proposition was made at a B2B (business-to-business) meeting on ‘AfDB’s ENABLE Youth platform: The Economics of Food Cuisine’ at the Summit.

The goal of the platform is to enhance the viability of food entrepreneurs, especially women and youth, seeking to start and grow a food-related business through knowledge-sharing; mentorship services; skills development; and access to finance.

AfDB and Hivos International have partnered and developed an inclusive end-to-end strategy that enables innovative entrepreneurs to become agents of change at the forefront of a more sustainable agri-food sector in Africa.

Young entrepreneurs will receive training along the different phases of the value chain (input, production, marketing, retail) as well as in business development.

Africa needs to move away from solely producing raw consumables and invest more in value-added processing units and branded food products and focus more on downstream activities such as the food service industry, according to the Bank.

Current heads of state and former leaders, including former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania) and John Kufuor (Ghana), attended the Summit, which was due to end on September 8th, with new financial investment pledges.

In 2016, at least US$30bn was pledged for investment in Africa’s agriculture sector.
(PANA, Abidjan 8/9; AfDB, 19/9)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

Agricultural Investments
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21800A–21800B

African Jobs Shortfall
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 6, pp. 21741B–21741C

AFRICA: Boosting Agricultural Productivity
Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol., Issue 3, pp. 21632A–21632C

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Tanzania – What Would Magufuli Do?

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He bulldozed a reputation as a no-nonsense president who wasn’t afraid to go hard on corruption, but crackdowns on independent media have raised fears of an authoritarian streak.

There was a time in late 2015 and early 2016 – when Tanzania’s President John Magufuli had only just been elected – that the man they call ‘The Bulldozer’ could do no wrong.

He staged surprise visits to government departments to make sure everyone was working. He put a cap on official travel, and vowed to eliminate corruption. All over Africa, long-suffering citizens looked at their own moribund governments and wondered to themselves, and then on social media: #WhatWouldMagufuliDo?

‘However, in the shadows of these laudable activities the president has demonstrated a worrying authoritarian inclination to repress dissent,’ writes Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham, on his blog.

Even Magufuli’s much-lauded anti-corruption drive was not all it seemed to be.

‘Stopping corruption by sacking officials in an ad hoc manner […] may look dynamic and effective, but in reality it exacerbates the problem,’ says Cheeseman.

‘At root, corruption occurs because institutional checks and balances are not sufficient to prevent individuals from abusing their positions. Dealing with this by further undermining official processes ignores the heart of the problem and actually leaves institutions more, not less, vulnerable to manipulation.’

Where Magufuli is concerned, this should serve as a cautionary tale.

This year the president has been in the continental headlines again. He is now earning plaudits for taking on the big mining companies who, he says, have been plundering Tanzania’s wealth for decades.

His administration has slapped a massive fine on UK-based Acacia Mining, the biggest gold miner in the country, for allegedly misreporting their gold exports. At US$190bn, the fine is one of the largest in corporate history.

At the same time, Magufuli has pushed through new legislation to drastically reform Tanzania’s mining laws, including a ban on exporting unprocessed mineral ores in an attempt to force companies to refine locally.

These are groundbreaking policies designed to ensure that Tanzania benefits more from its vast mineral wealth. But before lauding Magufuli for his visionary leadership, it is worth considering what impact this is likely to have on the Tanzanian economy.

Southern Africa Resource Watch director Claude Kabemba told ISS Today there is no doubt that Tanzania’s mining industry needs a major overhaul. But he is concerned that Magufuli’s proposals are neither consistent nor comprehensive, and may ultimately fail to deliver the systematic reform necessary.


Newly inaugurated President Magufuli greets President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe in November 2015. (Photo: GCIS)

As his domestic popularity has declined over the past year – from an extraordinary 96% in June 2016 to a still-respectable 71% in June 2017 – Magufuli has been looking for ways to reconnect with his base and to win over an increasingly sceptical opposition.

‘By espousing the language of sovereignty and economic war, Magufuli is tapping into political memories of liberation struggle and revolution,’ says Tanzania analyst Dan Paget on African Arguments.

‘This is not to cast aspersions about the sincerity of Magufuli’s intentions to reform the mining sector, but to illustrate that those reforms serve several purposes at once,’ says Paget.

Meanwhile, human rights organisations accuse Tanzania’s government of using repressive legislation to muzzle the media, civil society and opposition politicians critical of the institution.

Mwanahalisi in September became the second newspaper to be banned in Tanzania in one year, VOA reported. The government said the paper had violated previous warnings about articles criticising President Magufuli.

“We report facts that are liked by many readers and we point out where the government is going wrong,” said news editor Saed Kubenea. “That’s our policy since the start of this newspaper.”

The news outlet was also banned in 2012 for publishing stories that allegedly threatened national security. After a three-year court battle, the ban was lifted. Kubenea says they are hopeful they will get a similar ruling.

Earlier this year, Mawio newspaper was banned for two years after linking two retired presidents to dubious mining contracts. Rights groups criticised the ban as an attack on freedom of expression, which has been restricted since Magufuli came to power in 2015.

In the 2015 election, President Magufuli received 58% of the vote, compared to previous elections in which 80% of Tanzanians voted for the ruling CCM party.

Ethiopia – Oromo Unrest

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With longstanding grievances still unanswered, this year’s Irreecha festival could be fraught with tensions, says Human Rights Watch.

Ethiopian government and security officials should act with restraint and take concrete steps to prevent injuries and deaths at this year’s Irreecha festival on October 1st, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on September 19th.

Many people, likely hundreds, died in a stampede at last year’s festival, triggered by security forces’ use of teargas and obstruction of exits.

The festival, attended by massive crowds, is the most important cultural festival to Ethiopia’s 40m ethnic Oromos, who gather to celebrate the end of the rains and welcome the harvest.

HRW found evidence that security force personnel not only triggered the stampede that caused many deaths but subsequently shot and killed some members of the crowd.

Dozens of witnesses said they believed this was an intentional planned massacre by the government. HRW has seen no evidence of that, but the perception, coupled with the past two years of brutality, makes this year’s Irreecha a potential flashpoint, HRW said.

Tensions were already high ahead of the 2016 festival following a year of protests against the government and security force aggression that left more than 1,000 people dead and tens of thousands in detention.

Anger at the Irreecha deaths triggered unrest across Oromia as mobs of youths destroyed or looted government buildings and private businesses. On October 9th, the government announced a far-reaching state of emergency that codified vague and overly broad restrictions on basic rights and was only lifted in August 2017.

The government has expressed condolences for the deaths but has stated that security forces were not armed, despite photographic and video evidence to the contrary.

The prime minister congratulated security forces for their efforts to “maintain peace and order.” Government officials also have stated repeatedly that the situation was exacerbated by “anti-peace” elements in the crowd.

“Last year’s tragedy was triggered by the government’s botched effort to control the event,” Horne said. “This year, the government should consider whether a much lighter security force presence would best serve to minimise the potential for violence.”

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Oromo boys in Ethiopia – CC 2012

The warning came as a conflict that had been raging for months between Oromia and Somali regional states escalated in September in violent confrontations.

Demonstrators accuse a police unit of carrying out killings and human rights abuses against the Oromo people, while the government has blamed the clashes on a border dispute between the neighbours.

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has called on major stakeholders to assist the government to achieve a durable peace among the feuding parties.

Desalegn reiterated that federal security officers had been deployed to secure areas in the troubled spots. He was speaking at a meeting with community elders, tribal and religious leaders at his office on September 16th, the state-owned Ethiopia News Agency reported.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – which is affiliated with the government and is “in no sense independent”, according to HRW – had been deployed to investigate rights violations in the conflict.

Head of Oromia Regional State Lema Megersa said the conflict is the result of criminal activities of individuals and does not represent the people and governments of the regional states.

Government spokesman Negeri Lencho said Somali Regional State put the death toll at more than 50, while Oromiya Regional State said only 18 people died, The Reporter said on the 16th.

(HRW 19; BBC News Online 13/9; Shabelle Media Network 17/9; BBC Monitoring 17/9)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin: 

Ethiopia – State of Emergency Ends
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 8, pp. 21546B–21546C

Ethiopia – Arrests and Protests
Political, Social and Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue 7, pp. 21509A

ETHIOPIA: State of Emergency Extended
Political, Social and Cultural series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21402C–21403C

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Nigeria – Lagos Airport Certified

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Several other aerodromes are soon expected to pass inspections and boost the country’s aviation safety rating.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) on September 18th certified the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, Premium Times reported.

The airport becomes the first to be certified out of the 22 managed by the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).

Speaking at the ceremony at the NCAA’s headquarters in Lagos, Director-General Muhtar Usman said the certificate was valid for three years, noting that all hands must be on deck to ensure that the certification was sustained.

The NCAA boss said the current drive toward certification of Nigerian airports was significant not only as a requirement by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and Nigerian civil aviation regulations, but as one of the critical safety targets of the Federal Government.

The director-general said that the declaration made in July 2012 mandated all African countries to certify their international airports, adding that the certification would facilitate the attainment of a regional hub, which Nigeria desires for Lagos and Abuja.

With the certification, more airlines can now operate to the airport. The certification is also expected to bring down insurance premiums on Nigerian airlines and airports, according to This Day.

Promising that the certification of Abuja airport is in the final stage, Usman affirmed that NCAA is committed to the certification of all Nigerian international airports in line with national and ICAO regulations as well as the Africa-Indian Ocean (AFI) Regional Safety Targets, according to Leadership.


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The ICAO certification essentially revolves around checks on infrastructure and regulatory procedures at the nominated airports, with a special focus on safety measures.

In February, inspectors from the NCAA and the ICAO visited the Lagos and Abuja airports to assess the facilities on ground. In March, the Abuja airport was closed in March for repairs and its runway has been upgraded to meet global safety standards.

Speaking in Abuja at a seminar on Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) in Africa, ICAO President, Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu disclosed that ICAO has put in place a project to support African states in the certification of aerodromes.

“Our office in Dakar, which is responsible for West and Central Africa region has picked a number of candidate airports under this project. Lagos and Abuja are [among] those airports. So, as we expand our operations to assist, if the airports in Lagos and Abuja are certified, then, the lessons learnt from that process and the best practice established can assist the effort in other African countries in the certification of their aerodromes,” he said, quoted by the New Telegraph.

Meanwhile, the United States (US) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given Nigeria’s major airports 65 days to meet security and safety standards for the renewal of the country’s Category 1 safety status, This Day reported on August 1st.

Without the rating, Nigerian registered aircraft cannot fly to the US, which would downgrade the rating of Nigeria in the world air transport industry.

The FAA team was dissatisfied with the dismal record of stowaways from Nigeria, which showed the security apparatus at airports is porous. The NCAA said it had met all other assessments during the audit and that the FAAN would address the security lapses.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin: 

Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp. 21687A–21688C

Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 54, Issue 2, pp. 21616A–21617C

Economic, Financial and Technical series
Vol. 53, Issue 9, pp. 21432A–21433C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.

Tanzania – TEDGlobal Conference

From fostering innovation in one of the world’s harshest environments to novel ways to repel mosquitoes and map the world, here are some highlights from the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania.

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Seeds of a Somali tech scene

Somali scientist Abdigani Diriye believes that at some point, his country needs to do more than devote all its resources to fighting piracy, Al-Shabaab and famine.

So about six years ago, he returned from the UK, where his family fled civil war in 1989, to his home in Somaliland to create the country’s first start-up incubators and accelerators.

So far they have trained more than 25 start-ups. Diriye realises tech won’t solve all of Somalia’s problems, “but it is a great vehicle to address many other challenges” such as healthcare, unemployment and education.

Others have since followed in his footsteps such as the iRise innovation hub which launched in June in Mogadishu.


Meet you at ‘prices.slippery.traps’

UK-based company What3Words has developed a new system of mapping the world by dividing it into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and giving each square a three-word address – so instead of complex co-ordinates, you could find someone at “prices.slippery.traps” – a specific spot around the Eiffel Tower.

Postal services in Mongolia, Djibouti, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire have adopted the system while the United Nations (UN) uses it in disaster areas, where like billions around the world, people may be living without an address.


Mosquito-repellent sandals

Tanzanian scientist Fredros Okumu and his team at the Ifakara Health Institute are working on new ways to repel and eliminate the carriers of malaria, dengue and Zika.

They are currently mapping mosquito breeding spots so they can identify and destroy swarms, while a repellent that can be worn in sandals or placed under chairs, protecting several people in the immediate area for up to six months, is currently being tested in Tanzania and Brazil.

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Sierra Leonean roboticist David Sengeh – CC 2016


Algorithms to detect diseases

Infectious diseases are fast being overtaken by afflictions such as cancer as the biggest health problem in Africa, where some countries have only one pathologist per 1m people.

Sierra Leonean roboticist David Sengeh is working with his team at IBM Africa on artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms that can predict a cancer’s progression.

AI software can be trained with a database of images to detect colour changes inside the cervix that point to patients at high risk for cervical cancer, which can be treated if caught in time, but which kills 60,000 women in Africa a year.


‘Eye-phones’ and mobile hearing

American ear surgeon Susan Emmett is currently testing South African-developed mobile screening technology in rural Alaskan communities that has replaced the need for an audiologist and permanent equipment and costs 10 times less than traditional solutions.

The audience was also shown a video by eye surgeon Andrew Bastawrous who won a Rolex Award in 2016 for Peek, an “eye-phone”, or smartphone app he developed for use in Kenya, which uses a low-cost clip-on device to take images of the back of the eye to test sight.


Drone blood delivery

In Rwanda, a system launched in 2016 to fly blood via drones from a central distribution centre to hospitals around the hilly nation has saved numerous lives, said robotics entrepreneur Keller Rinaudo, whose company Zipline runs the system.

The drones now deliver 20% of blood supply outside the capital Kigali.

In July, Tanzania’s health ministry announced they would use the same technology to deliver a variety of medical products in what is set to be the largest autonomous delivery system anywhere in the world. (AFP 31/8, 1/9 2017)