Fox Bytes 17 – The make-believe issue

Funny money

Whereas some games have been around since humanoids dragged their knuckles across the plains of Africa, others have only emerged since those knuckles have wrapped around cellphones. Imaginary money is one of them.

Standard (fiat) currencies such as pounds, dollars and rands are issued – and, importantly, backed – by central banks or governments. But they’re not the only way of paying for things. 

Over the last couple of years, cryptocurrencies, also called digital currencies, have become increasingly accepted by people and merchants as a means of payment for goods or services. Bitcoin, Ripple, and Ethereum are probably the best known.

But there are more. A lot more. In fact, there are currently more than 1600 cryptocurrencies available over the internet, and new ones are springing up all the time. 

They make their appearance through an ICO – an initial coin offering – where, instead of selling shares, startups simply offer tokens of a new digital currency. Investors pay using either fiat or existing digital currencies. 

Those investors then hope like hell that demand increases the value of the new currency over time. Sometimes that happens, quite often it doesn’t. 

That’s why any ICO is a game…and a gamble. 

Image: rodrigo


Pop goes the President

The latest serious player in African politics is a pop star, but not as in ‘a pop star among politicians’, but a real pop star, one popular among the people. And that makes him both exciting and dangerous.

His name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, but he’s better known to his fellow Ugandans by his stage name Bobi Wine. His songs have struck a chord with Ugandans because they call for the upliftment of conditions for the poor. On the back of this, and his humanitarian work, popular support saw him elected to parliament in 2017.

His popularity and his outspoken opposition to the deeply unpopular President Yoweri Museveni – who has ruled Uganda since 1986 – has made him the enemy of some powerful people, not least the president himself.

When, on 14th August, the president’s motorcade was attacked and stoned by a mob, Kyagulanyi was arrested, and allegedly tortured by presidential guards, on suspicion of being involved. 

After being released Kyagulanyi left for the US to receive medical treatment for his injuries; and on his return to Uganda on 20 September, supporters in their thousands turned up to greet him and hail him as a hero of the people.

In a country where almost 80% of the population is under the age of 30, a pop star can easily become a president.

Image: John Nyagah


…and this is why Brexit is such a mess

Selling the imaginary is easy if you’re JK Rowling; it’s a lot more difficult if you’re Theresa May, and the British Prime Minister is feeling the pain. Over the next few months she must sell to EU leaders her plan for Brexit – known as the Chequers deal – ahead of the UK leaving the EU on 29 March next year.

The deal was rejected last week by the EU leaders in a summit in Salzburg, so Mrs May will have to rejig her deal ahead of another summit planned for October.

The problem is one of imagination – because there is no clear, observable Brexit ‘specimen’, different people imagine it differently. There may be dictionary definitions for terms in the deal – such as ‘immigration’ and ‘tariffs’ – but they mean different things to different people. Some see opportunity, some see threat.

Indeed, ahead of the Brexit referendum on 26 June 2016, pro-Brexit activists sold voters on the idea of voting ‘Yes’ by appealing to their fears and hopes of imagined futures. The result: as many different images of ‘Brexit’ as there were people imagining it. 

Now, Mrs May’s deal has to measure up to all those different images, and the expectations that came with them.

And this is why Brexit is such a mess.

Image: Joep Bertrams


[These articles originally appeared in Issue 17 of Fox Bytes (you can view it here) in the week of 24 September 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. Fox Bytes is published weekly to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]