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The Comorians of the Grand Comoros (Ngazidja)

In: Religion Topics

Submitted By wjharold
Words 5432
Pages 22




MARCH 7, 2013


I. Introduction...............................................................................................................3
II. Background Information...........................................................................................4 A. History, Language and Culture......................................................................4 B. Economy, Religion, and Family...................................................................7 C. Maps and Regional Information.................................................................10
III. Survey of Current Mission Work............................................................................11 A. The Invisible Church....................................................................................11 B. Can Someone Help.......................................................................................12 C. Difficulties in the Region.............................................................................13
IIII. Proposed Strategy.....................................................................................................15 A. The C-Spectrum............................................................................................15 B. From this Point Forward...............................................................................16
V. Conclusion................................................................................................................17
VI. Bibliography..............................................................................................................19

Introduction After the flood in Genesis chapter 7, eight people remained on the earth. Today there are over 7 billion inhabitants, occupying more than 196 different countries, located on seven different continents and hundreds of islands. Surely, the command given to Adam to “Be fruitful, and multiply…” (Genesis 1:28, KJV), has come to fruition. Yet, the same God that spoke these instructions to one man has been forgotten or ignored by so many. So after an undetermined number of years, another command is given, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt 28: 19-20)
So the questions remain, how will this monumental task be accomplished, where should the work begin, and who will carry it out? An answer was given in Acts 1:8 as Peter recounts the words spoken by Jesus, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” Early Christians understood that this work was going to be accomplished by them and they had both the means and the mandate to carry out this mission. Since scripture says that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever more” (Heb 13:8); this mandate has not changed, although the methods may have.
In this modern world, technological advances have increased transportation and communication. The breakthroughs have torn down cultural barriers allowing for cross-cultural exchanges to flourish, making this world a smaller place. However, for missionaries, despite the
1 KJV Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007). All scripture notated or footnoted unless otherwise specified comes from the KJV translation. advances, they still share some of the early challenges as those 1st century missionaries. The cultural differences, historical backgrounds, political climates, and religious tolerances are a few. The daunting task before today’s missionary must be met with education which infuses these basic subjects if the hope is to effectively minister to the unreached people of the world. With this in mind, the Comorian people of the Grand Comoros (Ngazidja) will be the focus of this paper; background information such as: history, language, culture, economy, religion and family will be shared; current mission work will be examined, and a strategy to further the efforts of reaching the Comorian people of the “forgotten islands” will conclude the paper.
Background Information
History, Language and Culture Legend has it that 1000 years before the birth of Christ, King Solomon searched the Comoros for the throne he’d given to the Queen of Sheeba.2 The island themselves were most likely settled in the 5th and 6th centuries AD by people of a Malay-Polynesian origin. Over the centuries the waves of African, Arab and Shirazi immigrants have blended those aforementioned people and now most Comorians identify with the “island on which they live.”3 This mixed race of people historically have dealt with inner political conflict since the Shirazi princesses married Comorian Sultans, sparking tribal disputes over land and trade rights. These disputes were compounded in the 16th century when these islands were identified by the Dutch as prosperous trade centers with the African coast and Madagascar. The sultans battled mostly for the title tibe, grand sultan or supreme ruler; which gave them exclusive privileges over the remaining tribes. This meant everything for a nation that was experiencing a
2 Greenway, Paul, Lonely Planet: Madagascar and Comors, 3rd Edition (Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1997), 17.
3 The Joshua Project, (accessed February 23, 2013). flux of European commerce. At first, the primary trade was vanilla, cloves, and ylang-ylang. However, in order to keep up with the demands of this commerce the sultans utilized slave labor. This eventually led to the slave trade which became their most important export commodity. On the eve of the French occupation, Comoran society consisted of three classes: the elite of the Shirazi sultans and their families, a middle class of free persons or commoners, and a slave class consisting of those who had been brought from the African coast or their descendants.4 The downfall of the sultans, which were left to their own devices, would be their internal conflicts over power. During this time the French had colonized nearby Madagascar, and with a home base on the island of Mayotte, they now had their eye on the whole of Comoros. By the 20th century due to the sultans to fighting each other and not the Europeans the French were able to take control of Comoros with very little effort and bloodshed.5 Up to this point, the primary language spoken by the Comorians was called Shikomoro, a Bantu language related to Swahili and written in Arabic script.6 To this day the language is widely spoken, but the official languages of the Comoros are: Arabic, Comorian, and French. Each language represents a different part of their culture and have unique purposes associated with it. The Arabic language reflects the religious affiliation of the Comoros and this will be discussed in further detail later in this paper. The Comorian language is the common language of the people.
There are four Comorian dialects; each corresponding to a particular island. On the Grand Comore Island Shingazidja is the spoken dialect, on Moheli the people speak Shimwali, on
4 Comoros: Early Visitors and Settlers, (accessed February 22, 2013).
5 Greenway, 18.
6 "Comoros." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. 2007. (March 4, 2013).
Anjouan they speak Shimaore, and on the island of Mayotte they speak the Shindzuani dialect. However, throughout the archipelago the Shindzuani is the most understood of the local dialects. This is important because today, about 600,000 people speak Comorian, and significant Comorian communities are found in France, Tanzania, Kenya, the Gulf States, and the United States of America.7 The Ngazidja in particular have rich vocabulary that borrows words from many other languages. Comorians through their maritime trade have came in contact with multiple cultures and people groups, so there should be no surprise that their language would reflect these interactions. More than any other is the influence of the French culture on the Grand Comoros. Although, their effects are seen and felt most on the island of Mayotte; there is no debate about the far reaching impact of their presence as a whole. The Grand Comoros has been through a number of regime changes and presently it is The Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoro Islands, which is in power. Even in their declared independence it is seen that French remains to be the official language of their administration. Therefore, understanding this world language (French) could be essential to how witnesses Christ to these people could be accomplished. Knowing the vernacular is one thing understanding the culture is another. These people are traditional Muslim in one sense but they also hold to their ancestral beliefs, which are seen in the form of occultism and spirit possession.8 However, when it comes to clothing the older generation lends itself towards more traditional fashions such as: men wearing white cotton garments, knee-length skirts, white jackets, white skull caps; while the
7 Greenway, 341.
8 The Joshua Project, (accessed February 23, 2013).

women wear long dresses and face coverings.9 The youth on the other hand, seem to prefer a Western style of clothing.10 Despite the differences in attire between the older and younger generations both strive to maintain their traditions, values, and rites. One key mechanism for ensuring this is through their music. It permits a simple understanding of Comorians: their aspirations, creations, capacity for openness, limits and common ideas, as well as the changes underway and those that are yet to come.11 For a people that was so severely dispersed by a slave trade and the Diaspora the social and economic linkages are yet maintained through practices like the grand marriage, which establishes bonds with inhabitants of the Grand Comoros Island and the vast Comorian Diaspora, residing largely in France.12
Economy, Religion, and Family The state economy is characterized by the predominance of agriculture, fishing and farming, which represents more than 40% of the GDP. The farming sector constitutes of the main part of the receipts of exports of the country (90% of the exports) and it is thanks to the products of cash crops (Vanilla, clove and ylang-ylang).13 Most Comorians earn an average $2-3 per day, with an annual income estimated around $700;14 making it one of the poorest economies in the world. At least 37% of households live below the poverty line. Regarding food production, only one third of the agricultural production is marketed, a big part being intended for auto-consumption.15
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 UNESCO, 2011, Island as Crossroads: Sustaining Culture Diversity in Small Island Developing States. Edited by Tim Curtis, UNESCO: Paris, 164 pp.
12 Ibid, 14.
13 Economic management guidelines 2009 of the Union of Comoros p. 122
14 Yates, Andrew D., The Comoros- The Secession Saga, West Africa No. 4163, 18-24 August.
15 Union of Comoros, 122.

Despite their exports of vanilla and cloves, their food production is inadequate to support its inhabitants. In 2007, there was a registered increase of 10% of the imports of basic foods (rice, meat, fish, flour and dairy products).16 The country faces major crises as the ruling class keep prices and inflation high while wages remain extremely low. The economic future for this country is unknown at best; the Comorian religion (Islam) will have a significant role in the recovery or continued decline of the nation’s economic status among the world economies. Islam dominates much of the Middle East and North Africa, so there is no surprise that the Grand Comoros given its geographic location would also be an adherent of this religion. Located in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique the Grand Comoros is 99.40% Islam17 and the remaining .60% is made up of Roman Catholics that were most likely converted during the period of French colonization. Ngazidja is beautifully decorated with more than 1000 mosques, and on this island the fundamentals of Islam are followed more strictly than on the other three islands that comprise the Comoros. They lend themselves more to the Sunni belief of Islam, which simply stated means that the leadership of the faith was passed to the most capable individual; in this case it was the Prophet Muhammad's friend and advisor, Abu Bakr that became the first Caliph of the Islamic nation. Comorians however are not easily deterred from their historical beliefs so traces of animism can still be encountered (mostly on the less inhabited East side of the island) in the forms of superstitions and sorcery.18 If one was to have problems with the malevolent spirits or devils, referred to as djinns, they would call on the assistance of a wagangi (witch doctor), that has the ability to cast spells and tell your fortunes in the sand. Regardless of the superstitious
16 Union of Comoros, 123.
17 The Joshua Project, (accessed March 7, 2013)
18 Greenway, 21. beliefs of Comorians it is impossible to venture to any part of the island and not be confronted by the overwhelming influence of Islam. The lack of dogs (which are seen as unclean by Muslims), the unavailability of pork or pork products, the dress of the men and women, and the architectural landscape all show that Islam is now and will be in the future a part of this nation’s culture. Winning these people over to Christianity will have to start at the individual level and family structures. Mentioned earlier was the notion of grand marriages, these are more political and social events that can last as long as three weeks. During such events entire communities are fed and the links between families become iron clad. Typically, the family is a very structured a tiered type of system; this is due to some of the beliefs of Islam and the emphasis of the role of men in the family. Females often remain part of their mother’s household, even after marriage,19 and it is not uncommon for them to expand their homes to accommodate room for their daughter and grandchildren. Comorians family is becoming an extremely young one as the death and birth rates are both rising in this country. It is estimated that the overwhelming majority of their population is 15 years of age20 and with a diminishing literacy rate it seems insurmountable that the family will continue to thrive. However, there remains hope, those members that were part of the Diaspora, still long for a returning to their homelands. Most have become educated and financially independent, sending home remittances to assist in the financial obligations of daily life. Dispersed but not divided, the Comorian youth, accepting to new ideas, will be the key to changing the mindset of not just their families, but their communities.
19 Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Comoros," accessed March 05, 2013,
20 The Joshua Project, (accessed March 7, 2013)
Maps and Regional Information Since gaining its independence from France, this country has suffered more than 20 coups d’états in the last 30 years. In 2001, it wrote its declaration and the first successful presidential election was held in 2002. The capitol of the Grand Comoros is Maroni, it is situated in the northern mouth of the Mozambique Channel, about two-thirds of the way between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique;21 ethnically, the islands have a mixed population consisting of Arabs, African and Malayo-Indonesian peoples, and Creoles, who are descendants of French settlers.22 This region suffers from basic human rights as discrimination, societal abuses, trafficking persons, and sexual exploitation of women and children are all found in abundance ( Also, with a population that is majority youth they have some of the worst forms of child labor ( Despite the negative things that are occurring in this reason there is a glimmer of hope and people long for a better way of life; so the unreached people of these “forgotten islands” does not have to remain being so.

21 CIA Publications, The World Factbook: Comoros, March 2013,
22 Metz, Helen C., Comoros Introduction, August 1994, (accessed March 7, 2013).
Survey of Current Mission Work
The Invisible Church Out of the 12 different people group of the Comoros 8 of them are unreached. None more than the Comorians of the Ngazidja (Grand Comoros), where Islam has a gripping hold of the 414,896 that makes up their population. From the outside (politically) this may seem like a nation that is progressive in its thinking and welcoming to change. Their constitution grants the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the freedom of the press;23 however, inside the country the story is different. The church is almost non-existent! Proselytizing, although not forbidden is prohibited, and there are restrictions on Christians openly practicing their faith. There are fewer than 400 Christian citizens (less than 1 percent of the population). There are fewer than 200 foreigners who are Hindus, members of Jehovah's Witnesses, Protestants, Catholics, and members of other Christian religious groups who live on the islands. There is no known atheists.24 The closest establishment of a Christian religion is on the island of Mayotte which is governed by the French, and maintains a visible presence of Catholicism. How these people to be reached when there are are such prohibitions on those who have professed their Christian beliefs. Even now there are reports of societal pressures that are quite literally persecuting the few that will admit Christ.25Still efforts are being made to reach these unreachable people.
23 “The Universal Declaration of Human the United Nations Human and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the conventions international including those relating to the rights of children and women/ proclaims solidarity between the Union and between the islands themselves, equal islands in rights and duties / all equal in rights and duties regardless of gender, origin, race, religion or belief…freedom of expression, assembly, association and freedom of association in respect of morality and public order.”
24 US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, International Religious Freedom Report (accessed March 7,2013)
25 U.S. Department of State: Diplomat in Action, Comoros, March 2013

Can Someone Help? Unlike the neighboring islands where they are some Christian influence, Grand Comoros is another story. It has been reported that there are Bible translations available, the Jesus film has been made available in their native language, and there are gospel recordings available,26 but with all of that the limited number of resources continues to make proselytizing to these people a struggle. The Joshua Tree Project says, “Prayer is the first step toward seeing these people reached with the Good News that Jesus Christ came to set them free.”27 However, prayer must be coupled with “faith in action” or work, by men and women that are willing to partake in the tumultuous task and extreme persecution awaiting them for the sharing of their faith. So can someone help? The African Inland Mission sent representatives in 1975, but their personnel were asked to leave in 1978.28 A few of the organizations that are currently at work in this area are: Eglise Adventiste du Septieme Jour—there is one congregation with twenty members, Eglise de Jesus-Christ aux Comoros—this group primarily consists of Malagasy seasonal workers who come to the islands for temporary periods of time. In 2001 there were 2 churches and 365 members. Eglise de l'Africa Inland Mission—this denomination first entered the country around 1975, but in 1978 personnel were asked to leave. In 1995 there were 2 churches and 84 members. Eglises radiophoniques isolees—isolated radio believers may exist. They may be able to hear religious programming from the island of Madagascar or a country in Eastern Africa.29 There is an ongoing effort but it is frocked with a myriad of obstacles.
26 People Groups
27 The Joshua Project, (accessed March 7, 2013)
28 Ottenheimer, Martin and Harriet Ottenheimer. Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands African Historical Dictionaries ; No. 59 Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1994. Barrett, David. World Christian Encyclopedia, vol. 1(p. 14.)
29 Ibid, 14.

Difficulties in the Region As stated earlier, Comorians of Ngazidja are faced with many obstacles that prevent them from freely accepting and practicing Christianity. Practically all children attend Quranic school for two or three years, starting around age five; there they learn the rudiments of the Islamic faith and some classical Arabic. When rural children attend these schools, they sometimes move away from home and help the teacher work his land.30 This puts the missionary at a huge disadvantage because for those Muslims that will convert they become ostracized by those who love them most.
The Comorian government does not have any stipulations or requirements for religious organizations to be licensed nor do they have to register with the government. Although Islam is not proclaimed as the official religion of the Comorian people, government authorities continued to prohibit Christians from proselytizing.31 A law dating from the early 1980s states "whoever divulges, promotes, or teaches Muslims a religion other than Islam will be punished with a three-month prison sentence and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Comorian Francs."32 This law was not an idle threat that was constructed to instill fear into its citizens; the Comorians have stood by their words and there are documented cases to prove its validity. Currently, there exist two Roman Catholic churches, but there attendance is limited. If they are caught proselytizing for their religion, they face deportation. Citizens who proselytize are afforded an open trial and are subject to imprisonment.33 The following are cases where this actually occurred:
32 Ibid.
33 Ibid.

On May 29, 2006, four men were convicted to three months in prison for "evangelizing Muslims." One woman was also convicted but received a three-month suspended sentence. They had been arrested one week earlier for hosting Christian religious debates in a private residence. In February 2006 the International Church of Moroni received permission to distribute gift boxes of toys for Comoran children. After promising the boxes would not contain any Bibles or religious literature, the church distributed boxes in four villages, two schools, and two hospitals. On March 27, the minister of education demanded to meet with the pastor of the International Church. During the meeting the minister revealed that a children's Bible storybook and two necklaces with crosses were found during the toy distribution. The minister demanded that the church stop all gift distribution; the church complied. On April 1, one of the church leaders was arrested for his involvement in toy distribution. He spent one night in prison, and his house was searched. Other church leaders were similarly detained, and their houses were searched. On April 3, the ministers of interior and education met with the pastor and threatened to have him expelled from the country. The school directors that gave permission for the boxes to be distributed were suspended and village leaders were questioned.33 Despite this new constitution these are ongoing problems within this country and region, but it is not the only problem. A struggling nation that deals with a dependence of imports for basic nutritional foods, an bumbling economy that is ran by several families of powerful aristocrats, an literacy rate of about half of its population, scorns of health issues: bad drinking water, disease, hunger, and the fact that there is no constitutional laws to mandate the care of persons with disabilities all add to the complexity of witnessing to these people. Also, strikes and protest are a common occurrence because of unfair work wages. The union government is often unable to pay government employees—including low-level officials, teachers, and medical workers—with arrears building up over time; most public sector employees do not receive more than a third of their expected pay during the fiscal period. These things, however, are not all bad. They provide a unique opportunity to preach a gospel of liberty (liberty from sin) through Jesus Christ, and for this cause strategies will be examined and proposed to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Comorians of the Grand Comoros. Proposed Strategies The C-Spectrum Comoros does not fall in the 10/40 window (The rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia approximately between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude. The 10/40 Window is often called "The Resistant Belt" and includes the majority of the world's Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.),34 but its religious DNA could qualify it for a candidate. However, considering a different way of categorizing it and instilling Christianity would be by a method known as, “The C- Spectrum.” The C1 – C6 Spectrum compares and contrasts types of “Christ-centered communities” (groups of believers in Christ) found in the Muslim world. The six types in the spectrum are differentiated by language, culture, worship forms, degree of freedom to worship with others, and religious identity. All worship Jesus as Lord and core elements of the gospel are the same from group to group. The spectrum attempts to address the enormous diversity which exists throughout the Muslim world in terms of ethnicity, history, traditions, language, culture, and, in some cases, theology. This diversity means that myriad approaches are needed to successfully share the gospel and plant Christ-centered communities among the world’s one billion followers of Islam. The purpose of the spectrum is to assist church planters and Muslim background believers to ascertain which type of Christ-centered communities may draw the most people from the target group to Christ and best fit in a given context. All of these six types are presently found in some part of the Muslim world.35
34 The Joshua Project, (accessed March 7, 2013)
35 John Travis, “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ-centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly (October, 1998): 407-408. From This Point Forward There are no 12 step programs that will guarantee success of reaching these people. Given the difficulties in this region traditional missionary methods may be ineffective as well. There are websites like: that has organized a way to send out announcements and alerts when a small group of Christ believing Muslims will meet. There are also other websites that offer bible studies, prayer request, and religious support groups that are all targeted towards the people of the Comoros. However, the censorship that the government puts on electronic media makes these methods of little effect. A testament to this fact is the disclaimers that the websites put on their pages, urging their viewers to register immediately because they are fully aware that once the government sees the site that it will be blocked and made unavailable for future viewing. Nevertheless, one of the potentially significant developments to watch for in the future is interconnectivity through the Internet and the development of significant and relatively inexpensive missiological tools for use on computers.36 Until this time comes the most viable options for reaching these peoples will be through international organizations that operate in an humanitarian capacity and the reinforcement of international laws in reference to human rights. Since there is such a large sum of remittances received from the Comorian Diaspora, the Comorians organize their communities differently. Every community is organized into NGO Associations whose members plan and implement their own public works, from health centers and schools to roads and electric power transmission, funded out of the remittances and occasionally directly through French, EU, or UN development partnership. ______________ 36 Moreau, A. S., Corwin, G. R., & McGee, G. B. (2004). Introduction to World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Baker Academic, 292.

This greatly raises the ability to show the tangible love of Christ and not just the verbal message of the gospel. For a country that is so submerged in a religion that is intolerant to the freedoms of the individual; the simple appeal to their humanity is a way around the hardened exteriors and allows for a direct connection to the visible needs of their communities. Teacher-Aid programs may also provide some assistance in the form of educating Comorians. Comorian education system is in disarray, and the public schools (Qur’anic Schools) are more interested in indoctrinating rather than educating their youth; this is another door that has yet to be opened. There needs to be a people-to-people initiative established that will educate Comorians about opportunities outside of their immediate surroundings, and then reintroducing them back into the communities from which they came, where they can spread and share their experiences with others. This is just a few suggestions on how the process of reaching these people can begin. Conclusion The great commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is not an easy task but it is one that must be fulfilled. Jesus warns of the impending dangers (2Ti. 3:12) and ensures his followers that though this times come that they will have the assurance of the Comforter (John 16:7) to help them. The Comorians of the Ngazidja are a unique and special people, as are all of God’s children, and they have a rich heritage that the world needs to be made aware of. Even more importantly they need to be made aware of the world outside of what they know. Christ the Savior has called them, forgave them, loves them, and is ready to save them if they will only accept him. It is and will be an enormous task to convert these people. The good news is that conversion is not the job of the Christian; it is the job of Christ. Prayer is where it will begin and prayer is where it will end. Make a decision to pray for these people and for God to send the aborers that will show forth His love and tear down the walls of religiosity; making true freedom have its perfect work in the lives of all of God’s children, even the Comorians of Ngazidja.

BIBLIOGRAPHY CIA Publications, The World Factbook: Comoros, March 2013, Comoros: Early Visitors and Settlers, (accessed February 22, 2013). "Comoros." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. 2007. (March 4, 2013). Economic Management Guidelines 2009 of the Union of Comoros

Encyclopedia Britannica Online, s. v. "Comoros," accessed March 05, 2013,

Greenway, Paul, Lonely Planet: Madagascar and Comors, 3rd Edition Oakland, CA: Lonely Planet Publications, 1997.

John Travis, “The C1 to C6 Spectrum: A Practical Tool for Defining Six Types of ‘Christ- centered Communities’ (‘C’) Found in the Muslim Context,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly, October, 1998. Metz, Helen C., Comoros Introduction, August 1994, (accessed
March 7, 2013). Moreau, A. Scott, Corwin, and Gary B. McGee. Introduction to World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey. 1st Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004. Ottenheimer. Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands African Historical Dictionaries ; No. 59 Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1994. Barrett, David. World Christian Encyclopedia, vol. 1(p. 14.)

People Groups (accessed March 5, 2013) The Joshua Project, (accessed February 23, 2013).
UNESCO, 2011, Island as Crossroads: Sustaining Culture Diversity in Small Island
Developing States. Edited by Tim Curtis, UNESCO: Paris, 164 pp. The Joshua Project, (accessed March 7, 2013) U.S. Department of State: Diplomat in Action, Comoros, March 2013 US Department of State Bureau of Democracy, International Religious Freedom Report (accessed March 7,2013) Yates, Andrew D., The Comoros- The Secession Saga, West Africa No. 4163, 18-24 August.

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