By James Bakama
IT'S one of those headlines that got many people off guard. Uganda’s Phiona Mutesi was due to take on the world’s richest man- Bill Gates in a game of chess.
It was indeed big news. Meetings with the owner of the world’s largest software company don’t come that easy.
A story goes of an African head of state who once travelled in the same plane with Gates. Eager to interest the billionaire , the President is reported to have struggled to market his nation.
The efforts were futile. “In which part of the US is that town found?,” Gates, who completely had no idea of the location of the African state, is reported to have asked.
Well, someone this time doesn’t have to struggle to interest Gates. I gather it is the billionaire who this time round wants to know everything about Uganda. That’s the power of sport.
But even more catching, is the powerful story behind Mutesi. Mutesi, an orphan, has after a childhood of poverty and squalor in Uganda’s biggest slum-Katwe emerged as one of Uganda’s best female chess players ever.
At 16 years, Mutesi has represented Uganda at the Chess Olympiad in 2012 where she earned the title of Woman Candidate Master for the Grand Master (GM) title.
Big media houses like CNN and BBC are scrambling for Mutesi, who also has American writer Tim Crothers writing a book “ The Queen of Katwe: a story of life, chess and one extra-ordinary girl’s dream of becoming a grandmaster”
But there is even more to Mutesi’s story. It is yet another strong reminder of the vast sports talent that abounds in Uganda.
Barely a mile away from the makeshift communal chess venue that brought forth Mutesi, is another slum Kisenyi where boxer Sharif Bogere was bred.
Bogere, who like Mutesi and Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich, did not have the comfort of being nurtured in well- structured talent development programs, narrowly missed out on a World Boxing Association title a fortnight ago.
Former world boxing champion Ayub Kalule, who like Mutesi was initiated into the Sweet Science in Katwe slum, observes that the tragedy of growing up with no proper sports facilities, is that most talents never realize their dreams.
Bogere, Kiprotich and Mutesi form that rare breed of talents have soared above all odds to sparkle.
At 16, there is still much more to expect from Mutesi. Her chess game with Bill Gates provides yet another of those rare opportunities to again prove that besides corruption and disease, there is also the good side of Uganda.
It’s a point Mutesi should easily prove by checkmating the billionaire.