Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 7th 2015 Contents A52
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, May 7, 2015
When she was nine, Phiona Mutesi learned to
play chess in the sprawling slums of Kampala for
free cups of porridge. As fate would have it, the
hunger she developed for the royal game has turned
her into a star, first over the chess board and now
in the world of movies.
Phiona s story, from her impoverished childhood
in Kampala s Katwe district to Uganda s leading
female chessplayer, is the inspiring stuff of the film
now being shot by Award-winning actress Lupita
Nyong o who is also cast as her mother.
The Disney movie, entitled Queen of Katwe, cap-
tures the drama of Mutesi s personal struggle and
the part the game of chess played in her eventual
triumph. The movie is expected to be released next
Enticed more by free porridge meals than by any
interest in chess, Mutesi joined a church programme
in Katwe back in 2005. But the youngster soon
became fascinated by the challenge of the royal game
and, in a matter of months, she was among the
group s best players. "True, I went there to get a
meal, but then I found the game so interesting," she
With her growing enthusiasm for chess and the
encouragement she received from Robert Katende
who conducted the programme, Phiona began to
ascend the ranks of Ugandan chess with consistent
success in prestigious competitions.
In 2009, Mutesi
won the Interna-
tional Children s
South Sudan. She
competed in the
Olympiad at Khanty
the following year
and was crowned
Champion in 2011.
As the Guardian of Uganda tells it, she competed
in the Olympiad as number two, the only girl in a
team of university students and working women. On
her return, she triumphed in the richest and most
prestigious local tournament, defeating the country s
top-ranked players along the way.
The newspaper added: "So unlikely and swift has
been her rise --- she has had little formal training
and plays largely by instinct --- that some of Uganda s
chess officials feel she may not be unrealistic when
she says in a soft voice, I want to be a grandmaster.
That is still a long way off. But it may not be improb-
able as the achievements that she and other children
of the Katwe slum have already shown."
"They have caused a chess revolution here," says
Godfrey Gali, general secretary of the Uganda Chess
Phiona was three when her father died. Her sister
died soon afterwards. Her mother worked hard, rising
at 3 am to go to the market to buy avocados, eggplants
and pumpkins to sell. But money was always tight.
After one year of primary school, Phiona was forced
to drop out along with her brothers to sell boiled
corn in the slums.
Once she realised her love for the game, Phiona
was a quick and determined learner. Every night she
practised against her brothers who were also coached
by Katende. A kerosene lamp in their shack illuminated
a board borrowed from the church group. Within a
year she was regularly beating "Coach Robert."
In 2009, Phiona and two boys from Katwe travelled
to Juba, South Sudan, for the regional children s
tournament involving 16 countries. It was the first
time she had been to an airport, had her own room
and ordered meals from a menu. She won all her
games and the girls title. The boys were also unde-
feated. Together they won the team prize.
"That alone was not groundbreaking," the Guardian
observed. "After all, Uganda is rated third among the
chess playing countries in sub-Saharan Africa. But
the fact that Phiona and her team-mates were all
from very poor backgrounds, with little or no access
to theory, was unprecedented."
DR expects that The Queen of Katwe would be
featured in T&T cinemas when it is released sometime
next year. In any case, DR hopes that the T&T Chess
Association would be able to obtain copies of the
Disney film to be shown in schools and other youth
Phiona s story is an inspirational triumph of the
human spirit and a tribute to the transforming ability
Uganda chess star in the movies
Links Archive May 6th 2015 May 8th 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page