Reported by Victor Ochieng
The story of Phiona Mutesi (pictured), a Ugandan chess prodigy, has grabbed the world’s attention, making children across her home country become even more interested in the game of chess.
Her inspirational story is set to be shown on a Disney film titled The Queen of Katwe, further generating interest in the game. As a result of Disney’s decision to shoot the film, more children are now registering for chess.
According to Uganda’s Chess Federation, the number of people registering with the body has doubled in recent months.
The film tells the story of Mutesi, whose exact birth date isn’t known. It follows her life in the slums, how she started playing chess, and how she rose to take a place among the leading and youngest chess players in Uganda.
Sources reveal that Lupita Nyong’o, an Oscar-winning actress of Kenyan descent, will play the role of her mother.
Mutesi’s serious entry into the world of chess began when she got wind of a chess program hosted in a church in her Katwe slum neighborhoods. Because the game wasn’t quite popular then, players were provided with a cup of porridge as an incentive to keep them coming.
“It was so interesting,” said Mutesi of her first experience in 2005 when she was first introduced to pawns, rooks, and kings. “But I didn’t go there for chess, I went just to get a meal.”
She likes the game because it requires a player to plan, otherwise one ends up losing.
“I like chess because it involves planning,” said Mutesi. “If you don’t plan, you will end up with a bad life.”
Her rise to where she is today has caught many by surprise. President of the Uganda Chess Federation Vianney Luggya was also surprised by Mutesi’s rise.
“Phiona Mutesi has flourished,” said Luggya. “She made history in the schools’ competition by becoming the first girl to compete in the boys’ category. It was certainly surprising.”
Mutesi’s first competition abroad was in South Sudan in 2009, during the Africa’s International Children’s Chess Tournament. The Ugandan team went back home with a trophy and Mutesi has since participated in competitions in Norway, Turkey, and Olympiads in Siberia.
She has earned the Woman Candidate Master ranking, proffered by the World Chess Federation.
Although chess has all along been predominantly considered a game of the rich, Mutesi’s story and several others, have been instrumental in attracting more people to the game.
Chess was introduced in Uganda in the 1970s and has registered growth over the years, with more competitions being held across the country.