The Kasparovs tour Africa for chess in education
By Mig Greengard
Kasparov is greeted by the Chairman of the Chess Kenya Githinji Hinga
Apart from promoting chess, Kasparov wanted to hear from local educators and chess people about the challenges they face and what resources they need to meet those challenges in the classroom – and also in the government and corporate boardrooms. Kasparov said: "It's an awareness-raising trip, both to raise awareness of chess in our destinations and to raise our own awareness about these places and what they need."
KCF Africa, or KCFA, is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and that is where this tour began and ended. The Kasparovs have spent a great deal of time in South Africa in the past few years, building the infrastructure of KCFA and working with partners like the Moves for Life program that has the enthusiastic support of South African President Jacob Zuma, himself a chessplayer.
In case you'd like to reenact this trip yourself with more sightseeing, Google Maps says you can drive this route, round trip to Johannesburg, in just 134 hours. We will happily publish the report of anyone who achieves this.
On July 16, the trip concluded in fine fashion when Kasparov met with the South African Ministery of Sport and Recreation to discuss a program to find and train the most talented kids in the country. "You can't ignore the importance of sporting achievement to promote the game at every level," Kasparov told us. "The successes of national champions inspire kids and parents, bring media coverage and sponsorship, and build national pride in an intellectual pursuit. The model that has worked is to focus on education and the grassroots but not to ignore the top talents and professional infrastructure."
Planning a generation of South African chess champions in Johannesburg: Sport and Recreation Director-General Alec Moemi, Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa President Afrika Msimang, Garry Kasparov.
The rest of the itinerary was full of first-time visits even for the well-traveled Kasparovs. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe: six countries in five days! It was also the first time most of these nations had seen a former world chess champion, and the response was tremendous. The tour was made possible thanks to fortuitous meetings between the Kasparovs, businessman Preston Haskell, whose family has deep ties to South Africa, and entrepreneur Rob Hersov of VistaJet. The Kasparovs pass on their gratitude to them and to all of their hosts along the way. This report is based on notes and comments from Garry and Dasha and local media coverage. The photos are by Dasha Kasparova unless otherwise specified. We've worked hard to get all the names, titles, and places right and please let us know if corrections are required!
July 7-8 – Nairobi, Kenya
The Kasparovs were met at the airport by Douglas Ratemo, the director of Talent Academy, and were whisked off to address and give out prizes at the Kenya National Youth Chess Championship. Federation President Githinji Hinga played the excellent host and discussed his task of rebuilding a federation that has passed through a long period of neglect.
Kasparov told us afterward, "It's a real shame to see how abandoned the Kenyan federation had been. For all the talk from FIDE about supporting chess in the developing world, it's clear here on the ground that that's all just talk. Githinji is serious about rebuilding and we are just as serious about helping them do it. We are glad to talk, but we aren't here with empty hands! FIDE sends a box of ten chess sets, KCFA is working on ten entire schools!"
KCFA aims to export the successful South Africa model to the rest of the continent. The key to the strategy is to bring the business community, the non-profit world, and the political world together with the chess community, the schools, teachers, and parents. There are also many international companies and non-governmental organizations interested in hitching their names to a success story, especially when they hear about the results in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, the politicians' doors open much more easily when Garry Kasparov comes knocking, and they open all the wider when sponsors are involved from the beginning.
We were excited to find this NTV Kenya video titled "Chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov graces local chess tournament" online the first day of his visit. But after watching it through we discovered he doesn't actually appear in it and the entire video is of the junior tournament and kids talking about how excited they are to be meeting him! It's still worth your 90 seconds, especially if you have grown cynical about the power of sports heroes to inspire the next generation, even if those heroes have recently turned 50 years old. The video of Kasparov's actual appearance has not, as far as we can see, been put online yet, unfortunately. Before he got in front of the cameras, Kasparov joked, "Finally, I'm going to appear on NTV!" (The station shares initials with the Kremlin-controlled Russian network that forbids the appearance of opposition members.)
Getting miked up for the interview. "Finally, I'm on NTV!"
The Kasparovs concluded the visit to Nairobi with a meeting with the Kenyan Commissioner of Sport at his office. They were joined by Afrika Msimang, one of the directors of the Moves for Life program and the newly appointed President of Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa.
Then it was time to head west, on to Kampala, Uganda. By the way, joining the Kasparovs on this trip was famous American economist Nouriel Roubini, a friend of Preston Haskell's, who acquired the nickname "Doctor Doom" for his dire predictions – until many of them came true with the 2008 housing market collapse and ensuing global financial crisis. This made for conversation that provided a little break from discussing the problems of the chess world! Roubini was meeting with various finance ministers and central bankers on the way, although he also attended a chess event or two!
Economist Nouriel Roubini tweeted this photo from the Nairobi airport
Kasparov's recent appearance in New York City with Moves for Life co-founder Marisa van der Merwe and young Ugandan chess star Phiona Mutesi was covered here, and this entire trip was a logical follow-up move to Kasparov's powerful exhortation in NYC about the importance of education. Ironically, as Kasparov became the first world champion to visit Uganda, Mutesi was playing in an event in South Africa! The Ugandan media was out in force, with dozens of reports from at least ten different sites covering Kasparovs' every move from the airport to their meetings with federation president Luggya M. Vianney and his entire executive group (including detailing the loss of two of the group's suitcases at the Nairobi airport, that were eventually recovered).
President of Uganda Chess Federation – Luggya M. Vianney (on Kasparov's left)
Making friends in Uganda
If the Kasparovs and chess federation president Kevin Ganza have their way, Rwanda could make news for its chess success. They met with Sports and Culture Minister Protais Mitali and Education Minister Mathias Harebamungu to discuss the benefits of chess in its famous definition as a sport, an art, and a science.
Meeting with the Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda, Fidele Ndayisaba (in glasses)
There is now a preponderance of evidence that chess is a universal positive for kids in school, with improvements in everything from attendance and participation to test scores in math and even seemingly surprising subjects like reading. But it makes sense when you see that more than anything, chess is fun! The kids love it and don't want to miss it, so attendance rises as soon as chess is introduced into the curriculum. Then they want to get better, and the improved concentration skills help in every subject. When you add the fact that chess bridges every social gap of age, gender, economics, and language, it's really a can't-miss proposition.
With the Sports and Culture Minister of Rwanda Protais Mitali
Meeting with the Minister of State in Charge of Education Mathias Harebamungu
The Malawi chess federation may not boast many players, but that doesn't reflect the level of enthusiasm for the game and for Kasparov's visit to Lilongwe. It's worth pointing out that although chess is a cheap game to play, it's not free to host FIDE-rated events. There are fees associated with having arbiters, organizers, ratings and titles to run events, and they are often prohibitive to small federations. Kasparov blasted this state of affairs, saying, "if we as a chess community are going to take our global responsibility to the game seriously, we need to do everything we can to promote its growth where there is the most potential. For the most part that means Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, especially in the areas we call the developing world. Hitting these struggling little federations with FIDE fees is anti-growth and anti-chess."
Meeting in Lilongwe Airport
Meeting with Minister of Education, Science
and Technology Hon. Eunice Kazembe
and Minister of Sport and Culture Hon. Enock Chihana
Kasparov with the Malawi Chess Federation – Hon. Kezzie K.T. Msukwa (orange shirt)
From two of the smallest countries in Africa they were off to one of the largest nations in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of Congo. Or with its own previous incarnations as Belgian Congo, the Republic of Congo, and Zaire.) It's the 11th largest country in the world and second only to Algeria in Africa. The Kasparovs headed to the southern tip of the country, to the second-largest city in the DRC after the capital of Kinshasa, Lubumbashi. The group was invited to dinner by the Governor of Katanga Province, Moise Katumbi Chapwe. "A very impressive figure," was Kasparov's evaluation. "I'm always happy to meet people who are more interested in doing than in talking, and Governor Chapwe is such man." Then they met with the Minister of Education, Laurent Kahozi Sumba for a presentation of the KCFA program.
Kasparovs with the Governor Katumbi and his wife Carine
Improvised press conference
With the Minister of Education, Laurent Kahozi Sumba
Harare, Zimbabwe, is full of contradictions that are typical in many African nations. The government is divided and private businesses and public institutions are often split as well. Everyone just tries to keep moving forward, and that includes the chess community and federation president Charles Kuwaza. The Kasparovs also met with Harpal S. Randhawa of GEMS Education, which has a global network. They has already announced that the KCFA programs will be implemented in the Rio Zim Foundation's schools in Zimbabwe.
The travelers with a promising group of female chessplayers in Harare
Harpal Randhawa of GEMS Education shows his impressive program
A happy send-off from Zimbabwe federation president Charles Kuzawa ended the journey
KCFA programs Malawi and Rwanda are also already moving forward, and confirmation is forthcoming from Kenya and Uganda. There is little doubt that the chess landscape in these countries is changing forever as of this month. It won't be every day that Garry Kasparov comes to visit, but the entire global chess community must come together with these far-flung communities of our chess peers. If the bonds are strong, they will no longer be at risk of falling through the cracks. Kasparov said, "these small federations get a few little gifts from Ilyumzhinov every four years and then are safely ignored. It's entirely backwards at the moment. FIDE shouldn't be living off the taxes of these federations, it should be the other way around, with FIDE having enough sponsors to give them the support they need. Real support, real chess brotherhood, also means being available and listening and responding, not disappearing and taking all your big promises with you when you go. KCFA is *here*, and we aren't leaving!"
South African Minister of Sport and Recreation
Mbalula and Kasparov.
South African social networks were abuzz about the meeting.
We hope to hear from our African readers about this visit and also about what can be done to promote chess in Africa in the future. Keeping lines of communication open is the first step toward building a global chess community we can all be proud of.
Report by Mig Greengard, pictures by Dasha Kasparova