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Ugandan who took chess to the slums comes to Botswana

Robert Katende
Robert Katende, the Ugandan who spread chess in the slums, is in Botswana for a two-day chess seminar in Francistown.

Fountain of Gems Chess Academy is hosting the two-day international chess seminar, which started on Wednesday and ends today. He is in the country at the invitation of Fountain of Gems Chess Academy founder, Jeremiah Dikgang.

World Chess Federation (FIDE) vice president, Betriz Marinelo from USA is the resource person and Katende has accompanied her. Katende believes chess can be used to transform lives and made a name for himself when he produced a movie based on the game, called ‘The Queen of Katwe’. The movie is about a young girl by the name Phiona Mutesi from a humble background who moves to chess and academic stardom.

Katende is the founder of Robert Katende Initiative and Som Chess Academy based in Kampala. He also serves as FIDE Social Action Commission general secretary. He said he came to know about Botswana chess during the Chess Olympiad that was held in Istanbul, Turkey in 2012.

“When you go to a European country as Africans you connect with your brothers and sisters. Not every African country makes it to the Olympiad due to the logistics,” he said.

Katende said that was his first interaction with Botswana and it was the same year that he was given a FIDE portfolio. He said since then he has been moving across the continent to see how chess can be used to uplift communities.

“With my philosophy of using chess as a platform to transform lives and restoring hope, I work with less privileged people. In Uganda, I started from the slums. The world knows me as the man who took chess into the slums,” Katende said.

He said initially, chess was known as a game for the elite and nobody expected people from the slums to play the game. In 2002, he introduced chess in the slums of Uganda and today it has more than 1,600 students. He said the programme has expanded to other countries like Kenya and Rwanda.

“We also have a programme called World Chess Expo, which is used to connect continents, especially the youth to learn from each other. It is through the platform that I connected with Jeremiah and learnt a little bit of what he does,” he said.

Katende said he felt that it was a wonderful initiative. “If he is reaching out to the less privileged, which is where my heart and my calling is, I would see how best we could stretch. I had to talk to the chairperson of Social Action Commission and say that

we needed to see how we could assist Botswana. We have been to other countries like Cameroon,” Katende said.

He said during the 2017 FIDE congress, he met with Botswana delegation and got to know more about the Fountain of Gems Academy. Katende said he learnt about the efforts that the academy was doing and the Botswana Chess Federation in general.

“For us in the African settings, people have not embraced chess but it is regarded as an academic tool in the Western world. They are using chess to propel their young generation in terms of creativity, innovation, analytical thinking and problem-solving. Chess has a lot of benefits. It is beyond a game,” he said.

Katende said he decided to launch chess as a vehicle for life transformation. He said that prompted Disney to make a movie on the programmes that he is doing.

“Sponsorship is not only a challenge in Botswana but the entire continent. I do believe that resources are scarce everywhere but if we strategically plan, it is possible for the government and corporate sector to assist. They also have to know the power of what is being supported. If we attach value to what we are doing, sponsorship cannot be a challenge,” he said.

Katende said chess should be included in the schools’ curriculum.

Regarding the seminar, Katende said they are targeting teachers. He said they provide teachers with skills that they are expected to share with their students.

“Teachers know how to deliver. One thing they should expect is how to integrate the chess concept and principles into a lifestyle. That is the core,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dikgang said the event is for teachers and any interested coach. He said participants would be trained and in the end write an examination.

“There are two titles up for grabs, development instructor and national instructor,” he said.

Dikgang said the idea started a few years ago. He said there was a time when, for five consecutive years, the women’s section title was interchanged between Sowa Junior Secondary School and Nkange Junior Secondary School.

“I was worried that we should not come to tournaments knowing who the winners are. It is not about the students but the competence of trainers. There is no way we could upgrade students and leave out coaches. I went for this opportunity no matter the cost,” Dikgang said.

He said for FIDE to bring such a high profile seminar, it had to go through the Botswana Chess Federation and enquire about his academy.




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