The Chess Queen of Africa – Rewriting the Rules


5 lessons we learn from the Queen of Katwe

“You belong where you believe you belong – where is that for you?   What matters is that you reset the pieces and play again.” You do not lay down your Queen so quickly.”

 Queen of Katwe is a universal uplifting, intimate story about looking ahead. It puts the spotlight on the power of ordinariness, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, hope, belief, courage, the ability to help, knowing how things affect and impact on the family and the community around us.

10 year old Phiona Mutesi has the power to inspire. A girl from a slum, she lives with her widowed mother Nakku Harriet and numerous siblings. She meets Robert Katende who catches football and chess at a missionary program.   Katende’s chess project began with six students who would become known as the Pioneers. On her first visit to the ramshackle church, Robert entices Phiona to join the Pioneers by offering her a peacock-blue mug full to overflowing with succulent white porridge. Delightfully she licks the mug and her appreciation of good food is clear to see.   Under Katende’s guidance  Phiona becomes a top chess player and is exposed to life outside Katwe.

Robert Katende does not come across as saintly, but as endlessly generous, patient, encouraging and understanding.   He is a loving husband, but even risks his wife’s wrath by turning down a well paid professional job in favour of helping the children. Nakku, Phiona’s mother is a strong woman who wants to give her children a better future. She is sensitive, loving, protective of her children and fiercely proud despite her poor and seemingly hopeless circumstances.

5 Lessons We can Learn

  1. Never ever stop trying. When there is room for optimism, belief and hope everything changes. When something really is at stake, lives irrevocably change. We change, our family changes, our communities change. Touchingly Phiona asks, ‘mum can you do big things from a small place?” Yes we can!   We can encourage ourselves and others to dream big.
  2. Creating an environment that builds collegiality, trust and camaraderie is worthwhile.The more time we take as a group to get to know one another, the better we will be at having honest dialogue, supportive collaboration and productive group problem-solving. A supportive network is invaluable. We see the golden treads of care, compassion and nurture woven throughout the entire film. Humour , and belief play a strong part even when the odds are stacked against us.
  3. Community and team building involving food, story telling and encouraging social interactions, strengthens leadership and build bonds.   We ignore hospitality and nurture at our peril.
  4. Mission and inspiration grows as we reconnect people to the reason they got involved in the first place. This is vital material people can use in their role as ambassadors. When we are committed, engaged and make sacrifices for the things we care about there are unbelievable shifts.
  5. We do not live in a static world. We need to stay sharp. Training often considered a one-time event is a continuous journey of learning and development. Training helps learners to become more effective in their roles and supports them to make smarter choices, act as a knowledge base and reference points for critical decisions. Resourcefulness is about using the tools that work. In Queen of Katwe chess (which is a lot like life) provides a route to solving problems. If we make a smart move we can stay away from danger, but any bad decision could have negative consequences.

I herald the foresight of Disney in making this film about a chess prodigy determined to play her way out of Ugandian slums. It is a rainbow story offering different perspectives and a different mindset and a better understanding of the world we live in. We are reminded not to let the past define our future.  Checkmate!