Nigel Short – Inside Africa

4/8/2006 – It is not often one sees the army summoned to attend a chess federation meeting, but that is what happened in Kabwe, Zambia. GM Nigel Short was on an African goodwill and campaign tour, when he faced considerable animosity from certain dignitaries in Botswana and Zambia. Here are the graphic details.

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Nigel Short is England's second highest rated player and has had a distinguished chess career. He became a GM in 1984 at the age of 19. In 1992, he defeated the formidable Anatoly Karpov of Russia in the World Championship semi-finals. At that time, he was the only other player beside Garry Kasparov to have defeated Karpov. The win booked a clash with Kasparov for the world crown but he was not successful against arguably the best ever chess player.

GM Short gets chilled reception in Botswana

At the press conference Dabilani Buthali, President of the Botswana Chess Federation (BCF), thanked GM Short for his visit and expressed hope that he will inspire chess players in the region to greater heights. "Africa has only three GMs all from North Africa, and as a region we are lagging behind," said Buthali.

When his turn to speak came, Short said he was interested in popularising chess and he is looking forward to spending time with players. When asked about the exact purpose of his visit Short said it was to promote chess in the region and to campaign for change at the management level of the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

At that time "all hell broke loose" when Buthali used the opportunity to lash out at grandmasters who often organise visits at times of elections. "These guys come here and make promises after promises but after the elections, they disappear. Africa needs to solve its own problems and if we have the right plans we can do it. We don't need people from outside the continent to tell us what our problems are," a visibly agitated Buthali said. He added that Botswana had taken a position on the two candidates for the FIDE top seat based on various strategic factors. He did not indicate who Botswana is supporting. He added that they would not use tax payers' money for visitors who have political agendas.

Short asked to be given a chance to respond, but this was refused. The fuming GM left the hall and invited members of the press to speak with him outside. Veteran chess player Mosenya Ndawana faulted Buthali's claims about the use of tax payers' money to host GMs with a political agenda. He said Botswana would be voting in Turin and taxpayers' money would be used to fly Buthali to the event. Hence, Botswana have a right to know what the country stands to benefit from the candidate BCF supports. Short said he will continue with his schedule despite what transpired at the press conference.

  • Full story – Kenneth Boiktuswane, "BCF rattles Chess Grand Master," Mmegi, 8 March 2006 (Gabarone, Botswana).

Zambia's Ncube to vie for FIDE VP spot

FIDE President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has nominated the out-going president of the Chess Federation of Zambia (CFZ) Lewis Ncube for the post of Vice President of the international chess federation. The Sports Minister of Zambia, George Chulumanda, said the Government would throw its weight behind Ncube's candidature. He said once elected, Zambia and Africa in general stood to benefit from Ncube's presence at FIDE during the 77th congress set for Turin, Italy from May 25 to June 5. Ncube officially stepped down from CFZ at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Kabwe at the weekend to pave way for an administration led by Barb Christon Nkausu.

Visiting British Grand Master (GM) Nigel Short, who attended the CFZ meeting in Kabwe (Zambia), was accused of lobbying for local administrators to de-campaign Ncube ahead of the FIDE elections. United States based Zambian International Master (IM), Amon Simutowe who described Short as his personal friend, said local administrators have to back Ncube for the vice presidency and pointed out his nomination from among over 160 countries as a clear testimony that his efforts were being recognised. "For the first time, Africa has a chance to have a say in world chess politics," Simutowe wrote. [Actually Emmanuel Omuku of Nigeria was in the FIDE Presential board and Executive Director for well over a decade].

  • Full article – "Ncube nominated to contest FIDE second top position," Times of Zambia, 21 March 2006 (Lusaka, Zambia).

Nigel Short's column in the Guardian

It is not often one sees the army summoned to attend a chess federation meeting, but that is what happened in Kabwe, Zambia, last week. Lewis Ncube, who stands to become the next FIDE vice-president should Kirsan Ilyumzhinov be re-elected in June, said the military presence was essential to ensure order. The opposition, headed by (Air Force) Colonel Barb Kausu, argued that the move was a deliberate attempt to intimidate the voters.

Your columnist unwittingly acted as a catalyst for these elections, which had been repeatedly postponed by the incumbent. The catalogue of complaints (unconstitutionality, opaque accounts, etc) from federation members finally became too much for the general secretary of the Zambian Sports Council, who, I was told, did not wish the visit of a prominent English grandmaster to bolster the president's popularity. This was ironic, as Ncube was ambivalent about my visit anyway. The upshot was that Ncube was quietly instructed to stand down as president, and I was strongly encouraged to postpone my visit.

I came regardless. Kabwe seemed too incendiary a prospect to miss. The colonel was nominated as president, winning by one vote, to joyous celebrations, in front of an Ncube acolyte. Ncube's FIDE ambitions are thus now dependent upon the precarious support of an executive that is, for the most part, opposed to him. He may yet survive, but it is difficult to believe that he would have been offered so important a post on the Kirsan ticket had they been aware of his predicament. Mind you, such regimes do tend to sow the seeds of their own destruction.

Another Kirsan stalwart suffered a more brutal fate at the weekend when Norway axed its president (and FIDE vice-president) Morten Sand; in doing so, it announced its support for the opposition campaign led by Bessel Kok. Norway's federation seems to have woken up to the fact that having its own countryman in a position of power is insufficient justification for being tarnished with abject failure.


Nigel Short in Kenya (picture from a previous trip in 2005)



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