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

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TCD: How do players qualify for the national team and how do they train?

NSIBAMBI: Uganda's qualification method is quite transparent. We use progressive elimination tournaments that start off with a large number of players drawn from a major tournament . They participate in qualifying Swiss tournaments whittling themselves down to a final group of 12.

The final 12 then participate in a round robin tournament to select the best six to represent the country. We find this system beneficial because it compels the established players to always be on their toes as there are no guaranteed places on the national team. It also gives the upcoming ones an opportunity to gun for the top.

The National coach normally takes the team through theory and practicals. We also encourage the players to use the computer to prepare themselves. The national chess league, which is held over the weekends for the bigger part of the year, also forms part of the training regime.

TCD: Does the UCF have practice matches with neighboring African nations (i.e., Kenya, Zambia, Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa)?

NSIBAMBI: Uganda maintains close and cordial ties with the Kenyan, Botswana, Zambian and Egyptian chess fraternities. With Kenya, the ties border on the brotherly and the two federations endeavor to help out on accommodation whenever they visit each other. Travel funding is the major constraint against more intra-African chess interaction.

TCD: Please tell us about the Olympic team members.

NSIBAMBI: This year's Uganda Olympic team is a product of UCF's schools programme and is composed of:

Grace Nsubuga (2239) aged 29 is the most experienced player and this is his third Olympiad after Elista (1998) and Istanbul (2000). In July/August 2001 a few weeks before 9/11, he was part of the historic group that participated in the inaugural Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament in New York. He is a positional player.

Shadrack Kantinti (25) will also be in his third Olympiad having gone to Yerevan in 1996 and Istanbul 2000. His style wavers between tactical and positional and he is therefore quite unpredictable.

Steven Kawuma (21) has more recently been Uganda's long reigning junior champion. A 2nd year Makerere University mechanical engineering student, this is his second Olympiad after Istanbul. His style is similar to Kantinti hovering towards positional.

Ignatius Wanderema (22), Isaac Munanira (22) and Emmanuel Mwaka (23) are debutants at this year's Olympiad. Steven, Ignatius and Isaac participated in the 1997 African Junior championship that UCF hosted in Kampala.

TCD: Is women's chess very active in Uganda?

NSIBAMBI: Women chess in Uganda is highly encouraged. For instance, we always ensure that for every major tournament, we hold a separate women's category for both open and juniors with different age-limits. Some of the leading names that have represented Uganda internationally are Elisabeth Namirembe, Charity Nanteza, Juliet Nakandi and Catherine Namutebi.

TCD: IMs Simutowe and Robert Gwaze of Zimbabwe are the youngest stars in Africa. Who are some of the up-and-coming stars both in Uganda and across the continent?

NSIBAMBI: Amon Simutowe, Zambia's top player who will be in Slovenia on behalf of his country this year, emerged champion aged 17. He staged quite a few amazing demo chess feats that were hard to forget in Kampala. Many other names such as Tizenge of Zambia, Boiposu and Pitlagano of Botswana were in Kampala then and are representing their countries in this year's Olympiad.

TCD: Who would you say is the strongest player in Uganda's history?

NSIBAMBI: FM Willy Zabasajja for more than 20 years was Uganda's top chess player. His achievements inspired many of the current crop of top players. Similarly, when trips such as the one Grace Nsubuga made to the US last year keep popping up, the imagination of the struggling players is fired up. It also makes easier UCF's task of popularizing chess in the country.

Daniel Nsibambi, President, Uganda Chess Federation.

Willy Zabasajja

Unfortunately, in many developing countries including Uganda, one cannot make a career out of chess. Life's other demands dictate that less and less time is progressively devoted to the game as the years go by. My guess is that chess will continue to be a game of the young, especially those in schools. It pleases us in Uganda that due to the positive publicity currently given to the game in the media, Uganda's youths of both sexes have taken it up and they are playing very strongly, often challenging if not sometimes 'embarrassing' the top players during tournaments. That way, Uganda's spot as a top African chess-playing nation will continue to be assured long after we have left the scene.

TCD: What are some of the UCF's future plans?

NSIBAMBI: UCF has drawn up programmes to take chess out in the countryside. To this end, we have received assistance from well wishers to purchase chess equipment to assist in these programmes. In this regard, we have no words to describe the selfless and continuing assistance of chess literature, equipment and counseling from Jerome Bibuld of the United States Chess Federation who has contributed greatly to the raising of chess standards in Uganda. A special word of thanks also goes to Dr. Daaim Shabazz for his trail-blazing work in the realm of chess information for development in our part of the world.

TCD: Thank you very much for this enlightening  interview. Best wishes to Uganda!

Interview conducted via e-mail exchanges: August 2002.

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