Chess, the Rwandan spirit and the future

Students at a game of chess in Kigali at a past school tournament. (File)

The New Times tweeted October 5. “Rwandan youngster Joselyne Uwase, 15, wins Woman FIDE Master (WFM) title at the 43rd Chess Olympiad in Batumi, Georgia”.

A day later, the paper followed with a report that another youngster, Christelle Uwamahoro, 14, had won the Woman Candidate Master (WCM) title at the same event.


The news may have escaped or surprised many in this country. Chess is not very well known among most people here. It is not a mass game with a huge following, but rather an individual game, often perceived to be for the elite. 


This is, of course, erroneous as the story of Phiona Mutesi depicted in the film, Queen of Katwe, ably demonstrated.


But it is not so much the nature, popularity or otherwise of chess that concerns us here. It is rather the story and achievement of the two young Rwanda girls at the Chess Olympiad.

In many ways, their success mirrors the achievements and progress Rwanda has made in various fields. It illustrates the spirit and character of Rwandans that is responsible for such the progress.

The feat of the two girls is the latest addition to Rwanda’s top rankings we read about almost daily in different global measurements. That has been the case in governance, government effectiveness, competitiveness, or ease of doing business.

It is the same story with innovation, the quality of our coffee, or environmental conservation efforts. So, too, in opening our country to the rest of the world, making it easy for people from anywhere in the world to visit, and many more.

We are getting used to being up there with the best. Actually we now expect it. That is a good thing because then we have to do everything possible to ensure we get there and remain there.

Because of such achievements, Rwanda has become highly visible. It is talked about a lot everywhere, often with admiration, sometimes with incomprehension, envy or even refusal to accept that all this is happening in Rwanda.

That should not worry us much. What should pre-occupy us more is how to keep this trend and even raise it higher, to ensure that there are many more achievers like Uwase and Uwamahoro in different areas. To do that we must first appreciate how we got here, which takes us back to the Rwandan spirit.

There is the spirit of daring, not being afraid of a challenge. It is that which led to the liberation of this country and its continued transformation.

Then there is the desire to excel at whatever we do, be the best we can be, and reach the highest position possible.

We are not being afraid to dream big dreams and then doing all it takes to turn them into reality.

Coupled with this is the belief in the ability to shape our destiny.

Then there is sheer hard work and refusal to be held back by the past, but rather answer to the call of the future.

Finally, the leadership of President Paul Kagame has done a lot to galvanise this spirit into the driving force for Rwanda’s achievements. His singular leadership abilities have been recognised beyond this country.

The country has reached somewhere. It is not yet where we want it to be. And so the most daunting task now is how to  protect the gains and keep the momentum, think beyond the present moment but many years ahead.

The conditions for this exist. Rwanda’s political arrangement, with its attention on dialogue and consensus while eschewing confrontation and conflict, favours focus on nation building, transformation and the future.

Continuity is ensured by the faith the leadership has shown in young people, not only in this country but across Africa, and giving them the confidence and tools to play a meaningful role in the affairs of the nation. They have been both apprentice and master in statecraft as well as in the corporate world.

In the end, however, Rwanda’s gains, the good name and global position it has can only be safeguarded by all Rwandans living up to their national spirit, recognising the unique position the country has acquired, and determining that it can only be taken higher and forward.

That requires strategic thinking. Which is why the exploits of the two young girls at the 43rd Chess Olympiad are significant. Chess is a game of strategy.

Every move is made with a long term view and final objective in mind. Yes, there are short term gains but they make sense only as part of a wider winning strategy.

That is the spirit that will earn us more benefits and guarantee our position in the world.

Twitter: @jrwagatare

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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