My Top 20 Reads of 2017

This year, I’ve read hundreds of articles, covering a wide range of themes all linked in some way to global current affairs – from investment and economics, to politics and philosophy. Here’s a list of my top 20 reads of 2017. Enjoy!

Why I left my liberal London tribe, by David Goodhart (FT Weekend Life & Arts) *paywall*
“The value divides in British society that led to Brexit, and may now break up the United Kingdom, stem from the emergence in the past generation of two big value clusters: the educated, mobile people who see the world from “Anywhere” and who value autonomy and fluidity, versus the more rooted, generally less well-educated people who see the world from “Somewhere” and prioritise group attachments and security. There are many subdivisions within both groups, of course, as well as a large “inbetweener” group. Anywheres tend to be more mobile than Somewheres, their careers often sucking them into London for a period. Yet more than 60 per cent of British people still live within 20 miles of where they lived when aged 14.”

From Netflix to rented homes, why are we less interested in ownership?, by Ian Leslie (The New Statesman)
“The Pay-go economy is changing our relationships with each other and with ourselves. Possessions form part of what the marketing academic Russell Belk calls “the extended self”. In Daniel Miller’s book, he describes how objects, however trivial, can embody relationships. Each household’s collection of stuff – tacky souvenirs, CDs we borrowed and never gave back – forms a constellation of personal significance. Post-materialism does not equate with spiritual enrichment. Usually the closer our relationships with objects, the closer our relationships are with people.”

Scandalized Reading, by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Fathom Mag)
“The majority of Christians […] read many more self-help and Christian living books than literature. But if we look at the example of the Son of God himself, we don’t see him speaking on how to make friends and influence people or seven methods of effective discipleship. Rather, he made his ministry about telling stories and living as the hero of a true story. Christ is the Word. The Bible is a story. If Christians are not reading stories, they are neglecting one of the charges of the gospel.”

Overcoming Your Demons, by Morgan Housel (Collaborative Fund blog)
“Stuttering seems uncommon [because] most stutterers don’t talk much. Silence is the perfect disguise. The clenched jaw, the contorted face, the awkward rapid repetitions of sounds as you struggle through words – veteran stutterers will move mountains to avoid these situations, and they’re easily avoided by not talking.”

Artificial intelligence: Silicon Valley’s new deity, by Leslie Hook (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“The quest for immortality is […] taken seriously in the Bay Area, partly because a number of billionaires are investing heavily in research to extend their own lives. Most of the focus is on the question of how to accomplish this (ideas include cloning yourself, then using the blood of the younger clone to nourish your older body). But few discuss the spiritual implications of these projects. If the technology we create surpasses us in intelligence, does it ever have a soul? And if humans live for a very long time, or indeed for ever, do they ever become gods?”

No more water for water-carrier, by Alex Magaisa (The Big Saturday Read blog)
“Mnangagwa doesn’t seem to have the courage to walk away. He is probably waiting for Mugabe to pronounce direct judgment upon him. There is no culture of resigning in [Zimbabwe’s] ZANU PF. Those on the gravy train do not like stepping off. They do not know how to survive outside the party. They are scared of life outside ZANU PF, a fact that Mnangagwa himself has preached before at political rallies.”

How ‘no deal’ could bring Britain to a halt, by Chris Giles (The Financial Times) *paywall*
“David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, has expressed confidence that Britain will strike a deal with the EU which would provide a smooth path to new arrangements with Brussels rather than a disruptive change. However, a no deal scenario would be disruptive because of the laws governing Britain’s relationship with the EU would cease immediately. “Calling it a legal vacuum would be underplaying where we would be,” says Malcolm Barr, economist at JPMorgan. “I think there would be a significant contraction in GDP.””

Syria: a tale of three cities, by Erika Solomon (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“In Assad’s Syria, people are not only divided from the rest of the country, but from within. The war is not yet over, but his presumed victory has sparked fresh reflections on the fight. What did it mean? How will people heal? Can they even come together again? Across the country, you hear a constant exchange of stories about suffering, loss and survival – a national currency for a society grappling with incomprehensible change.”

China missionaries seek converts along the Belt and Road, by Tom Hancock (The Financial Times) *paywall*
“Beijing’s Zion church is one of dozens in the country to have sent missionaries overseas, as evangelical Christians follow their country’s huge infrastructure push into Southeast Asia and the Middle East, creating a dilemma for the officially atheist Communist party. There are about 1,000 Chinese missionaries outside the country, compared with virtually none a decade ago, according to churches and academics. Church leaders hope to increase their number to 20,000 by the end of the next decade. Those leaders say missionary activity is a natural extension of China’s Protestant movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades and now numbers about 100m.”

To Understand ‘Brexit,’ Look to Britain’s Tabloids, by Katrin Bennhold (The New York Times)
“The campaign was marked by a relentless drip of anti-immigration rhetoric and a couple of big lies that stuck: the 350 million pounds (about $450 million at current rates) that Britain paid to the European Union every week (false) and the prospect of millions of Turks’ making their way to Britain if it stayed in the union (Turkey is not joining the bloc). Two years ago, the United Nations urged Britain to deal with hate speech in its newspapers, specifically citing a column in The Sun that compared migrants to cockroaches and the norovirus. The tabloids say they merely reflect the concerns and fears of their readers. But their critics say they poison the debate by playing to people’s worst instincts and prejudices, distorting facts and creating a propaganda ramp that mainstreams intolerance and shapes policy.”

What kind of liberal society do we want? by Tim Farron (Theos Think Tank blog)
“If you say you favour diversity and pluralism, then you must oppose all attempts at assimilation and forced conformity.  You may like the idea that people will think the same as you, but you must not aim to build a society where you engineer that via legal or social pressure.  And it is especially on this latter point that liberalism is at risk.”

George Osborne’s revenge, by Ed Caesar (Esquire)
“At a little after 6.30, nearly every weekday morning, George Osborne — 46 years old, tall, rich, boyish, tieless — takes the bus from Notting Hill in west London, where he lives, to Kensington High Street, where he works, orders his breakfast to take away from Leon, arrives at the marbled and airy headquarters of the London Evening Standard, takes the lift to the second floor, enters his corner office, and sets about destroying his political enemies.”

Eat, pray, live: The Lagos megachurches building their own cities, by Ruth MacLean (The Guardian)
“Throughout southern Nigeria, the landscape is permeated by Christianity of one kind or another. Billboards showing couples staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, which appear at first glance to be advertising clothes or condoms, turn out to be for a pentecostal church. Taxi drivers play knock-off CDs of their favourite pastor’s sermons on repeat, memorising salient lines. “I’m a Winner,” read the bumper stickers that adorn the fancier cars, declaring their owners’ allegiance to Winners’ Chapel, a grand white megachurch whose base, Canaanland in the Ota region, is all neat fences and manicured lawns. “Where I’m from, people long for tractors to farm with. Here they just use them to cut grass,” exclaims one visitor, driving through Heaven’s Gate. It is a world away from the throng of people, fumes and rubbish outside.”

Who’s afraid of a secular state? by Nick Spencer (Theos Think Tank blog)
“Secularist countries are rarely happy ones; or, more precisely, rarely happy with being secular. The ideological bloodlessness that is its greatest strength is also secularism’s biggest weakness. Fighting for equal fairness for all makes a great street banner. Human nature finds it a harder task. Those of a more naïve humanist bent, whose anthropology recognises only human goodness and dismisses selfishness as skin deep and cultural, often protest at this, but history is not on their side. Humans are tribal animals. They have strong identities. They are not animals instinctively inclined to arbitrate objectively between tribes or to fight for the rights of other tribal members. We can and we do, but it can often feel like hauling yourself up by your moral bootstraps. We are not naturally secular and, as a result, secular societies often struggle with simmering identity issues.”

Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it, by Peter Harrison (Aeon blog)
“Global secularisation is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science. The thesis that ‘science causes secularisation’ simply fails the empirical test, and enlisting science as an instrument of secularisation turns out to be poor strategy. The science and secularism pairing is so awkward that it raises the question: why did anyone think otherwise?”

Zambia: Lungu’s state capture is so complete he barely needs to pretend, by Sishuwa Sishuwa (African Arguments blog)
“Lungu has many political and business figures around him, many of whom were marginalised under the late President Sata but have flourished under the new president. This group feels its time in the corridors of power has been too brief thus far and wants more time to accumulate through the state. They can see clearly how those they replaced are now languishing. Senior government and ruling party figures say that this circle has captured virtually all state institutions. The term “state capture” is topical in South Africa, but applies fully to the situation in Zambia too.”

Reflections on the Ten Attributes of Great Investors
, by Michael J. Mauboussin, Dan Callahan, and Darius Majd (Credit Suisse)
“We all walk around with views of the world that we believe are correct. You are compelled to change your mind only when you confront reality that disconfirms your beliefs. The easiest way to avoid the sensation of being wrong is to fall for the confirmation bias. With confirmation bias, you seek information that confirms your view and interpret ambiguous information in a way that is favorable to your belief. Consistency allows you to stop thinking about an issue and to avoid change as a consequence of reason. But great investors do two things that most of us do not. They seek information or views that are different than their own and they update their beliefs when the evidence suggests they should. Neither task is easy.”

How to read Financial News, Morgan Housel (Collaborative Fund blog)
“Every piece of financial news you read should be filtered by asking the question, “Will I still care about this in a year? Five years? Ten years?” The goal of information should be to help you make better decisions between now and the end of your ultimate goals. Read old news and you’ll quickly see that the life expectancy of your goals is higher than that of the vast majority of headlines.”

Protect Africans from unscrupulous auditors, by Jude Fejokwu (The Africa Report)
“Auditors are paid by their clients, but the investing public is meant to believe that audited financial statements meet the required standards of honesty and transparency. History tells us, however, that audit firms’ first loyalty is to the paying client. Africa needs better auditors if its stock exchanges are to become developed markets, attracting substantive local investment.”

The Four Fundamental Skills of All Investing, by Morgan Housel (Collaborative Fund blog)
“If investing were only about numbers, no one would be good at it, because computers would arbitrage away all opportunities. And if it were only about psychology, no one would be good at it, because every investor has different, arbitrary, goals and markets would never coalesce around something objective. Good investing is some part analytical and some part psychological. An art and a science. The trick is knowing when which skill is necessary, and how one affects the other.”

That’s it!

Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!

Chipo.

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“The Peaceful Nation” – Zambia’s Most Common Story About Itself (a reflection)

Every nation on earth has a set of stories about itself that it tells itself. These tales are passed down from generation to generation through food, music, and art, as well as through government-led social, economic, and foreign policies. From America’s “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave” to South Africa’s “Rainbow Nation”, these national narratives deepen the people’s sense of identity and belonging, and they set clear markers which distinguish them from other nations. Often, these stories are rooted in some historical event: a victorious war, or some widely celebrated invention. They can also be rooted in a person (some national hero), a key natural resource, or the physical landscape.

Zambia, my homeland, has its own set of stories. Perhaps the most common is “the peaceful nation” narrative. The idea of Zambia as an inherently “peaceful” place is one we have truly internalised – it’s what we believe we are at our core. The narrative isn’t just aspirational, it even informs public policy. Zambia as a “peaceful nation” is something we try to protect at home and sell to investors abroad.

But when last did we pause to reflect on how this idea squares up with day-to-day reality? Is it possible for “peace” in Zambia to mean so much more than just the absence of armed conflict? And who benefits and who loses out from this narrative as we have it today?

Zambia as a ‘haven of peace’ is an idea that has a lot of weight behind it.

Zambians are among the warmest and friendliest people anywhere on earth. We’ve never experienced civil war despite our rich cultural diversity. And during Southern Africa’s fights for independence, many liberation leaders from across the region were exiled to Zambia. This role cost us greatly. We literally took bullets (bombs, too) for our neighbours and the toll on our economy and way of life was considerable. Even as recently as the mid-1990s, Zambia was still acting as an important regional player in trying to bring an end to the armed conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

But while this evidence supports “the peaceful nation” narrative, other evidence doesn’t.

Over the years we have taken these noble acts of peace-building and stretched them. “Protecting the peace we’ve enjoyed since Independence” is a well-worn phrase used by successive governments to quell debate and dissent.

What’s so peaceful about that?

And what’s peaceful about economic injustice? Corruption? A crumbling education system? Desperately poor public health infrastructure?

Most Zambians face unthinkable injustices every single day. Would they happily agree that being part of “the peaceful nation” of Zambia has served them well over the years? “Peace” is not just the absence of armed conflict, it’s so much more than that.

The prolonged absence of armed conflict is a wonderful thing, something we should be so thankful for. But I refuse to settle for “peace” in the way that the politicians tell me to – by keeping quiet and agreeing to be told what to think. Ben Okri, the Nigerian writer, says:

‘If nations tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face reality, they will free their histories for future flowerings.’

We have a choice; to celebrate and build upon what is true about Zambia’s “peace” narrative but also to face down the lies. Learning to share together in our nation’s diversity – its traditional ceremonies, food, music, art, languages, politics – provides us with a much better chance of holding together than empty, recycled rhetoric ever will.

© Chipo Muwowo, July 2017.

Cover image by Gary Bernard, Getty Images.

Book Recommendation: The Good Immigrant

The Good Immigrant is a rich and powerful collection of 21 readable – and very personal – essays by 21 non-white British writers exploring what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain today. These writers tell stories about trying to find their place in a world (read: country) where “the default is always white”. The book encompasses a broad and colourful sweep of narratives which include: a history of family names; ‘blackness’; being typecast as a terrorist whilst travelling; and TCK angst.

Continue reading “Book Recommendation: The Good Immigrant”

The Zambian “Afro chic” industry: A socio-economic perspective

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Muchanga Mudenda, co-owner of VALA Fashion House, Lusaka, Zambia.

As I pushed the shop door open, the bell chimed announcing to the duty staff that customers had arrived. The three of us – my sister Tawonga, my now wife Emily, and I – entered and briefly waited for someone to appear.

Continue reading “The Zambian “Afro chic” industry: A socio-economic perspective”

Does Britain owe reparations to its former colonies? Indian MP, Dr Shashi Tharoor, thinks so. Watch him “sweep the floor” at the Oxford Union

Watch Indian Member of Parliament Dr Shashi Tharoor answer the question, at the Oxford Union, “Does Britain owe reparations to its former colonies?” Tharoor is confident and engaging. This is 15 minutes of pure history gold. Watch it!

Continue reading “Does Britain owe reparations to its former colonies? Indian MP, Dr Shashi Tharoor, thinks so. Watch him “sweep the floor” at the Oxford Union”

Some interesting thoughts on what it means to be “well-read” – by Morgan Jerkins of Book Riot

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Here is an excerpt from a short article, Is Our Concept of “Well-Read” elitist by Morgan Jerkins:

“Let’s face it: we place value in certain works more than others. Not many people may have read Things Fall Apart, but they have read and will most likely praise Romeo and Juliet. Continue reading “Some interesting thoughts on what it means to be “well-read” – by Morgan Jerkins of Book Riot”

They Say Home is Where the Heart is. But What if Your Heart is in More Than One Place?

I hopped onto my bike and started to ride. It was half past 7 in the morning but it was still very dark outside.

I pedalled enthusiastically, hoping that I would warm up quickly. Each vigorous push of the pedal only seemed to invite the cold wind my way. At this point, what I really wanted was my bed plus a nice cup of tea. But I had to quickly banish such thoughts because I wasn’t going to be getting any. “This 20 minute ride had better go quickly”, I thought. I pedalled harder. I needed to get into work on time.

Continue reading “They Say Home is Where the Heart is. But What if Your Heart is in More Than One Place?”