Home Chess News Chess Kenya Has Its Moments Of The Night Of The Long Knives

Chess Kenya Has Its Moments Of The Night Of The Long Knives

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From Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Long_Knives

You will all recall there was great fanfare when the new Chess Kenya office was elected sometime earlier this year.  There was great hope as usual.  Kenyans have this great faith in institutions and hardly ever realise that it is the ordinary chess players who have a role to play in the development of chess in Kenya.  We wait for the Chess in Schools program to start as if it can start like spontaneous combustion.  Many will hardly ever pay their membership fee and yet expect great things.  Many will hardly spend time studying their chess and yet complain about the lack of exposure.  We have become soft.
I will end my comments here in that I am concerned that things are not going well in Kenyan chess.  There is not much one can do but hope that sanity prevails.  This is the moment that the “Long Knives” have come out.
After a long honeymoon it is now apparent that there are deep divisions within Chess Kenya.  The first to fire a salvo was Brian Kidula who was the PR and Marketing Executive who tendered in his resignation with the following comment on Facebook.




 Unless CK looks beyond personal interests, we are in for another rough ride. I have tonight withdrawn from my appointed position as PR & Marketing Executive since it is no longer tenable for me to operate in that docket, given the vested interests of individuals in CK. 

Hope sanity reigns and we see a better dawn.”

Brian Kidula at the 2012 Olympiad Selection
Well within a day it was our prolific writer, chess player Mehul Gohil (aka Gorilla) who put out a long story on Facebook that there were a number of intrigues and huge power play action.  This is what he had to say;

Wordsmith Mehul Gohil in action.
“This is Gorilla reporting live from the big bad world of Chess Kenya politics.

I had taken time off from the forum in order to conserve nervous energy and remain focused on the very tough task of jousting with the Ugandans at Daystar Open. The current crisis in the chess scene has inveigled me to make a comment.

I fear for the future of Kenyan chess.

When the new CK came into power in April 2013 there was great hope for a promising new future. Dictatorship, corruption, handpicking of players for the national team, junior scene mess, using police to harass and arrest players, using CID to threaten players, chess equipment (public property) worth hundreds of thousands of shillings suddenly being ‘stolen’ from an ex-chairman’s car, chess books disappearing from the official Chess Kenya library, conflict of interest, ex-CK officials accepting bribes and voting for certain FIDE officials to remain in power (Kenya’s name was besmirched after Chessvibes gave details of malpractice during the 2010 FIDE election where Kenyan officials were mentioned in negative light)…this was the chess mess we had to put up with for over a decade. According to some old hands the chess mess had been present since the inception of the national federation in the late 1970’s. Githinji & Co checked in and we said goodbye to all of this. Or so we thought.

The new CK got off to a good start. Players felt more at ease now that a ‘friendly’ CK was in place. Tournaments started to proliferate as clubs and private organisers felt more comfortable. The junior scene got a massive boost after Githinji & Co convinced Kasparov Chess Federation that Kenya was ready for them. 

But over the last couple of months the CK ship has hit pawn stormy waters. Because of poor, cowardly and aloof leadership at CK. Because of ex-officials from former CK regimes (working together with selfish and ‘cowboy’ private operators in the junior scene) literally and illegally carving out a separate and autonomous chess territory of their own.

It seems the new CK espouses a leadership model whereby players must never know of CK operations. Whilst it is understandable that many back office procedures need to be kept within CK executive committee, we here seem to have a case where even broader policy directives are also kept away from public view. There is a lack of transparency in this CK. As of now, in this respect, it is no different from the rogue regimes of the past. What is worse, we hear rumours of some high ranking CK officials themselves being kept out of the decision making loop and are only made privy to information when decisions have already been made. We hear rumours of the chairman consulting non CK-executive people when making decisions whilst leaving his own people out of the process. These are all rumours but they are in the air. This would lead one to infer CK executive committee operations do not happen in an atmosphere of democracy. That there is an element of the lone-ranger in decisions made. 

A player on the ground is left to wonder how big the chess scene really is. Does CK have 10,000 paid up member? Does it undertake operations so massive that it would make no sense to detail every move they make? Who has ever seen minutes of meetings since this new CK came into power? How did this new CK head into business as usual modus operandi when it comes to transparency in a record time of 5 months since taking office? How did factions within CK start forming in record time? A leaders role is to bring people together, unite them for a common purpose but here we see a CK leadership that is gradually factionalising the Kenyan chess scene and leaving us asunder. 

Fact is the Kenyan chess community is small. Everyone knows everyone. Therefore, any attempt to hide things or keep them away from the chess public eye are bound to fail. Chess Kenya is still too small an outfit. It is tiny. Coming trips by chairman to Estonia will be leaked (such things should be made public, nobody will mind. Should a Kasparov backed team end up in FIDE next year after the elections at the General Assembly, the current CK chairman might even be invited to take up a FIDE post. I am speculating but such a thing would be good for us.), that Sports Ministry almost wanted to take over CK affairs will be talked about on the ground, that CK leadership is too cowardly to straighten out the junior scene will be discussed.

It’s all rumours but they indicate such a leadership approach has meant an evil of axis has now gained a strong footing in Kenyan chess. It also means the Ck leadership is too prideful to admit they have a problem and ask the players on the ground to come out in their masses and help deal with a serious situation. Or maybe it is a leadership that thinks players are simply window dressing in the large scheme of things. They are just there to play this thing called chess. Just there to forumate and fart. That this CK leadership arrogantly believes the real stuff is only what they are doing. 

It all comes back to the Junior problem.

I have said it time and again that if the junior problem is not fixed, Kenyan chess is not fixed. 

Before going to the axis of evil let’s start with what CK have done regarding this. They have given non-Kenyans a blank cheque for the junior scene. I had applauded their initial decision (which was aimed at the axis but still would have killed two birds with one stone) to ban national junior team representation for one year. CK easily succumbed to ‘scratch my back and I will scratch yours’. The meeting that was called was probably just sham as decisions were probably already made beforehand and, just to cosmeticise it for the chess public, xyz was said at the meeting. Foreign junior parents will sponsor events of the like. This is akin to neo-colonisation. IMF and World Bank giving African countries ‘aid’, keeping them undeveloped in the process. On a micro-scale, chess-scale, it’s the same principle at work. This sort of sponsorship should never be accepted. The motive of the sponsor is purely selfish. One the foreign junior hits his or her teens they are gone. Never to be seen again on the Kenyan chess scene. How many cycles of this have we seen? One foreign junior lot replacing the next and so on and so on. We never learn, do we? This is not a long term strategy. It’s not a strategy at all. It’s bunk. When making the new Chess Kenya constitution we gave them a two year grace period. This was again a mistake. I was one of the few who advocated for zero years grace period. Because what will happen after two years is that these same guys will ask for another two years and knowing the CK leadership these further two years will be given. ‘Scratch my back, I scratch yours’. And so on it will continue. One chap (now occupying a high post on the Disciplinary Committee…how was he selected? Was it a democratic Executive committee appointment? Or was it a lone ranger decision? Are their minutes of the meeting which led to the appointment?) claimed this anti-foreigner stance regarding the juniors was in effect anti-indian. Well, I am Indian through and through and I am against the expatriatisation of junior chess. Because I see it as very detrimental to Kenyan chess in the long term (it has already proved very damaging). You want to enjoy playing for the Kenyan flag, playing in the national team then become a Kenyan citizen or acquire permanent residency or dual citizenship. We have the Dunfords and Gorillas going for AAG, getting the same allowances as others and so on. Become Kenyan citizens or PR’s and join them. Otherwise stick to playing in the various international junior opens. But CK have already made a decision. They are going to keep the status quo as regards non-kenyans on the junior scene. They put their tail between their legs and rescinded their original decision. Now I have ambitions of breaking Mukabi’s Olympiad appearance record since this sends out a clear signal that no new juniors will be coming forth to replace Maputo Maporomoko. I will be taking photos at Olympiad 2024, playing on Board 1.

Now we come to the axis of evil. 

Elements of the former rogue CKs were going to make a comeback. I am surprised the current CK leadership failed to understand this. We allegedly now have a situation whereby all kinds of chess associations and outfits in the region of the former Central Province are running, organising and controlling all chess activities there. It’s like a breakaway republic. I am calling it the ‘Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia’. According to the unsubstatiated rumours, if Chess Kenya wants to do anything in that former Central Province region they have to get clearance from Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia. Some rumours even suggest that Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia told CK something like ‘just try and step foot in here and we’ll show you’. 

Understandably, CK could not tolerate this. So they sent out a missive that for one year all international junior events where there is Kenyan (not individual) representation will be banned. The Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia wanted to continue the decade long corrupt practice of making sure the junior scene remains a gravy train for a few mafia pockets. Chess in schools in former Central Province region is like under direct control of this Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia. Making a mockery of the existence of a national and duly appointed/elected chess body. 

Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia then apparently complained to Sports Ministry. Sports Ministry allegedly told CK to get it’s act together, get rid of the ban. If not, they were apparently ready to put in place a caretaker committee. CK rescinded the ban. Business as usual on the junior scene continues. Where it’s not abut developing strong juniors but about developing a business for a few select so that junior chess can become a cash cow at the expense of chess at large. CK has so far apparently proved toothless to deal with this. A whole section of the country’s chess is in control of Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia apparently. If say I wanted to personally give a simul for free at a school in Nyeri or someplace, I would have to get a ‘chess visa’ from Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia first. I would have to have their blessings or their invitation. I just can’t walk into that school in Nyeri and give my simul. Even if CK has sanctioned my simul. Their sanctioning holds no sway in this region, apparently. These guys possibly even have their own spokesman on this very forum in the form of ‘egz. Talk about having a PR committee that is effective.

This makes one ask some obvious questions: Does CK have open lines of communication with Sports Ministry? If so, why did they not get Sports Ministry guys in the know before Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia did so themselves? Does this mean Chess Kenya has only limited control of junior chess in this country? Was the decision to rescind the ban a long ranger move made by say chairman? Were the other CK officials ready to fight this illegal move by Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia? Is their lack of team work within CK executive committee as a result of Lone Ranger vs the rest imbroglios? How is it possible that a whole section of country can be claimed by a renegade chess outfit(s) and Chess Kenya can do jack about it? Does Mr. Kenya Chess Mafia have more influence with Sports Ministry than Chess Kenya? How is it that the chess public gets no feedback on such issues from Chess Kenya, issues which threaten to see former CK officials possibly coming back into official CK power sometime in the future? Does CK have open lines of communication with the chess public? Are we going to see CK getting sabotaged by Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia? What is going on in Chess Kenya? Who is controlling/administering Kenyan Chess? Does it mean now that Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia have achieved success on the junior front, they will be emboldened to do more such things?

This all smacks of poor CK leadership. CLearly the closed door policy CK has had (something we hoped we would see the end of) has kept the players as stakeholders out of the loop. Ck leadership has like turned its back on the very same constituency that would have had its back in such a crisis. Certainly the majority of senior players would not like to see renegade outfits like Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia doing this and would react. But what to do? No official statement from CK leadership. No dialogue with us. 

But it is still not too late. CK Chairman should show leadership and call for an open and honest stakeholders meeting. If he has made mistakes he should admit them. The CK team is still made up of strong and capable individuals. It would be a shame for them not to work as a team since they can achieve a lot. They even have the backing of the majority of players. Issues between officials should be laid out at such a meeting, problems like Mt. Kenya Chess Mafia openly talked about and things made right. CK should also have an open door policy and share more info with the chess public. 

If this leadership can’t be shown then it’s time for someone to pack up his bags and leave CK. We have come too far to go back to Congambitism”.