The Talking Drum
featuring  Daniel Nsibambi,
President, Uganda Chess Federation


The Ugandan Chess Federation (UCF) has been one of the most active on the vast African continent. This nation of 22 million has a thriving chess population led by the tireless efforts of Daniel Nsibambi and his staff. Improving 22 places in the 2000 Olympiad, the Ugandan chess mavens hope to take the momentum to Slovenia and make their presence felt. With a thriving chess league and successful showings in regional competitions, Uganda appears to be on the rise. Mr. Nsibambi has benefited from the generous sponsorship of New Vision International, a major Ugandan publishing company. "The Pearl of Africa's Crown" are words ringing true in Uganda's national anthem.  Uganda is indeed shining!!

TCD: Tell us where Uganda is (for those that don't know) and what kind of country it is (climate, terrain).

NSIBAMBI: Uganda is one of the three countries found in the East African region. It island locked unlike its two neighbours, Kenya and Tanzania whose shores are washed by the Indian Ocean. It has a warm and pleasant climate and was famously described by young journalist Winston Churchhill in 1907 as 'the Pearl of Africa'. Churchill was later to become Britain's prime minister and war-hero during the Second World War, 1939-45. Churchill wrote in his book My African Journey, "… Uganda is a fairy tale. The scenery is different, the climate is different and most of all, the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole of Africa… What message I bring back? … … Concentrate on Uganda." With those few immortal words, Churchill captured the image, spirit and mood of Uganda.  Ninety-five years later, any newcomer to Uganda will tell you that his statement is as true today as it was then.

Daniel Nsibambi, President, Uganda Chess Federation.

Daniel Nsibambi

My first tournament days were another baptism of fire. With no quarters given or taken, the senior players showed us how far we had to go. More tournament experience however brought more improvement and confidence.

Over time, I assumed administrative responsibility at club level as chairman of the UCB chess club and in 1997 I was elected Chairman of Uganda Chess Federation.

TCD: Please tell us when the UCF came into being and when it began to organize and participate in international competitions.

NSIBAMBI: Uganda Chess Federation came into being in 1972. What is significant about this date is that it is the year of the Bobby Fischer - Boris Spassky historic match in Iceland. The publicity accorded to this clash sparked off a fire in the imagination of the few Ugandans who had been previously playing chess as a pastime. They organised themselves into the Uganda Chess Association later to become the Uganda Chess Federation after affiliation with FIDE in 1976.

TCD: Who were some of the first members of the national team and are there any celebratory triumphs in the country's history (any recorded games, pictures)?

NSIBAMBI: The names to remember here are the late Paul Bitarabeho (founding chairman), a Kampala businessman, the late Lawrence Kapanga (founding general secretary) a librarian with Mengo Senior Secondary school in Kampala and Dr. Yusuf Mpairwe (founding vice chairman), a Kampala physician who still practices at the Naguru Medical Laboratory. Uganda has participated in all past Olympiads since 1980 except the 1990 Moscow Olympiad.

Some of the surviving pioneering members of Uganda's 1976 counter-Olympiad team in Tripoli are
Matthew Kibuuka, FIDE Master Willy Zabasajja (then aged 19), Dr. Wilson Kisubi, Vincent Lule, John Kiganda and Dr. Yusuf Mpairwe. Other notable veterans in subsequent Olympiads are Dr. George William Zirembuzi, Joachim Okoth, the late Amos Mungyereza (bronze medal in Lucerne 1982, board 6), Silver Kamuhangire, Enoch Barumba and Muhumuza Mpeka.

In the Thessalonica Olympiads (1988), unrated
Emmanuel Kabuye playing board 1 nearly caused a sensational upset when he came close to beating Grandmaster Eugene Torre (Philippines). The game ended in a draw. Jerome Bibuld has large collection of pictures that may contain some of these players many of whom he knows by name. More recently in 1996, 16-year-old Geoffrey Makumbi earned Uganda a gold medal on board 6 in Yerevan, Armenia.

TCD: Provide us some brief personal information (your hometown; where you learned to play chess; your tournament participation; how you became the UCF's Executive Director).

NSIBAMBI: I was born in Kampala city although my family's ancestry can be traced to a small township called Masuulita barely 48 km (30 miles) northwest of Kampala. The only famous thing about it is that it is in the operational zone where in 1981 Uganda's current president Yoweri Museveni started his 5-year guerilla war that brought him to power in 1986.

As a young man at school, I played all sorts of physical sports making a mark in football where I made the school team as goalkeeper in primary school. In secondary school and thereafter my classmates physically outsized me so much so that I opted out of physical sports preferring to be chief cheerleader during most school outings.

I regret that I did not meet chess in any of the handful of schools I attended. That says a lot about chess life or lack of it in Ugandan schools during the 1960's and 1970's. My first brush with chess was long after I had left school in the 1980's in my job as a banker with Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB).

Colleagues who had picked it up from various backgrounds introduced chess into the Bank. We would play the game during lunch break as we still do and after office hours. We literally went through the baptism of fire as beginners, receiving limited assistance in the way of theory, administration and the rules of chess.

Those early years were given a shot in the arm however by a visit in 1984 by senior FIDE arbiter
Jerome Bibuld. It is him who put Ugandan chess on a proper footing when he trained arbiters and coached Ugandan officials/players in tournament administration and organisation.

The Crested Crane, Uganda's National Symbol.

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