Dvorkovich ally Lewis Ncube remains African chess head

by Macauley Peterson
10/7/2018 – The FIDE Presidential election was not the only heated contest at the FIDE Congress. The African Chess Confederation held an election for its President and deputies as well, which proved to be much closer than the FIDE election and included its own case of "withdraw and endorse" at the eleventh hour. But unlike Nigel Short, ACC candidate Tshepo Sitale's plea to support insurgent candidate Essoh Essis failed to tip the scales sufficiently to stave off Lewis Ncube — an Ilyumzhinov loyalist who supported Dvorkovich — who was narrowly re-elected to a new term. | All photos: Macauley Peterson

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An election balanced on a knife edge

To say the election for the African Confederation had an "eleventh-hour" surprise is not merely idiomatic. Not only was Tshepo Sitale's rhetoric infused with Christian influences ("eleventh hour" derives from a Biblical parable) but it literally came in the eleventh hour. The African Chess Confederation meeting began at 9pm, with delegates and observers crammed into a slightly-too-small conference room at the Hilton hotel. It was standing-room only, as the candidates gave their final campaign remarks and introduced their teams.

Sitale was up first, and spoke in short well-crafted sentences, pausing frequently for translation to French in a manner which created an almost musical quality to his speech.

Sitale

Tshepo Sitale laying out the case for his candidacy before abruptly withdrawing from the race

Standing room only

Every seat was taken and spectators sat on the floor and lined the walls — at left is Graham Jurgenson, Executive Director of the Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa

Sitale, Makropoulos supporter, advocated for the independence of the ACC and emphasized self-reliance and good governance. At the close of his remarks, he sprung his surprise: "In the cause of unity, I will sacrifice myself", he said as a preface to throwing his support to Dr. Essis.

Ncube was next and began by introducing his team:

  • GM Slim Bouaziz (Deputy President), the first African and Arab grandmaster in 1993
  • Kezzie Msukwa (General Secretary) from Malawi who was the zonal president for Southern Africa and a member of FIDE's electoral commission
  • Benard Wanjala (Vice President), Chess Kenya President
  • Tshepiso Lopang (Vice President), a WIM and International Arbiter
  • Ansumana Kamara (Treasurer), an accountant from Sierra Leone

When Lopang's name was called, someone in the audience called out, "Iron lady", meant as a compliment — if a somewhat misogynistic one. In Ncube's remarks, he echoed the sentiment, saying of the 38-year old woman from Botswana, "she works three or four times harder than most of the men her age".

Ncube with his team

Ncube (left) introducing the five members of his team (the French translator at the far right) 

"Our main problem in Africa is availability of resources to run our programs. In order for us to run our programs we need to be self-sufficient." He noted that Africa is a rich continent as far as natural resources are concerned, but that these are exploited by multinational countries that should be encouraged to invest more in Africa.

EssisEssoh Essis was the last to speak. "Good evening to the Africa that just delivered a checkmate to the old FIDE, to start ushering in a new FIDE," he began, referring to the Dvorkovich election. Essis himself was a late supporter of Dvorkovich, but he reached out to the Makropoulos supporters acknowledging the support from Tshepo Sitale.

"The first thing that we will do is that we will quickly move to establish a chess federation in the seven African countries that do not have such".

Those countries are Chad, Guinea Bissau. Republic of Congo, Benin, Western Sahara (the status of which is in dispute), Niger, Equatorial Guinea. Essis notes that this would expand Africa's power in the General Assembly, by increasing the number of delegates from 46 to 53.

He called for maintaining the independence of the ACC, "organisationally, financial and operationally", and to register the ACC as its own legal entity headquartered in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, "to be in sync with the African Union".

"Every African should be a chess player," he said, emphasising chess as a metaphor for life that could help lay the foundation for the future of the continent. As his speech continued, his voice rose to a crescendo: "I see in all of you, competence, knowledge, contributions, ideas, energy that we can mobilise all together". He announced his team from Somalia, Nigeria, Madagascar and Zimbabwe, and concluded with "you are also the team that will create the new future for Africa."

The vote commenced shortly after 11pm. Unlike in the GA, the vote count is in full view of a packed room waiting in anticipation.

Awaiting the results

Tense moments as the votes are counted

The three members charged with conducting the count almost seemed to be drawing it out for dramatic effect, meticulously sorting the ballots into piles.

"We have finished the counting and now we will give the result but first give yourselves a round of applause". The audience half-heartedly complied, eager to get to the results!

Of the 45 total votes, one was spoiled leaving 44. Essis' count was read first: 21 votes. The Ncube supporters eruptted in cheers before their side's tally of 23 could be read aloud.

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Macauley is Editor in Chief of ChessBase News in Hamburg, Germany, and producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast. He was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.
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