Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: Africa is a continent of the third millennium

Recently, I have had many meetings with representatives of different African countries. I talked with diplomats and politicians, executives, many of whom are my long-standing and good friends. We mainly discussed the development of chess and business cooperation.
I have known and loved Africa for a long time. I certainly visit Africa as often as any country of Europe or America. My affection to this continent was a result of my official duties.

 Back in 1995, when I was elected president of FIDE, one of the key problems that I was facing was the loss of interest in chess in the world. The once most popular game rapidly turned into a sports for a narrow circle of fans. One of the most problematic regions was exactly Africa: here the development of chess had to start almost from scratch.

Our proposals and projects for the development of chess were most welcome here. This is well understood, because chess is the most accessible sport. For obvious reasons, most African countries are not well economically developed so it is difficult for them to build stadiums and promote sports that require large expenditures on equipment. But everything is simple with chess: all you need is a board (or at least just a lined sheet of paper) and a set of pieces that one can make himself, that's all.
Therefore, for example, in South Africa, our project to incorporate chess into the curricula of kindergartens and schools was a great success. President Jacob Zuma not only supported this idea, but also opened one of the first chess schools in his native village, that is, he took direct part in this project.
Another very important argument for the advancement of chess was found in Sudan. The authorities of this country, like their colleagues from other African countries, are concerned about the spread of religious extremism among young Muslims. And, in their opinion, chess can serve as an excellent emotional and intellectual alternative to spreading radical ideas.
Well, I can attest to it that children and young people willingly become fervent (and very successful) chess fans. In a small African country of Togo, I support a small orphanage with 150 children whose parents died during the civil war. Every time when I go there, I play chess with these children. And every time I am amazed at their intelligence and mental alertness. They easily multiply six-digit numbers in their brains, and during the game they calculate their moves far in advance.
We managed to achieve a lot with such enthusiasm and the active support of the authorities. When I travelled around the countries of the African continent in 2011, I was amazed at the changes that had happened. Chess just conquered this mainland.
Let me give you another example: many saw Hollywood film Pawn Sacrifice about the famous match between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky in 1972. But few people know that back in 2016 South African’s film makers produced the magnificent film “Queen Katwa” about a girl from Uganda, whose passion for chess helps to overcome life difficulties and escape from poverty. I assure you, in terms of drama and passions, this film is not inferior to the Hollywood’s one.
The Supreme Council for Sport in Africa was perhaps the first to include chess in the Pan African Games. Now chess is included in the programmes of the Pan-Asian and Pan-American competitions. But the IOC, unfortunately, everything will not be solved. By the way, it is the national Olympic committees of African countries that most ardently support the FIDE initiative to introduce chess into the programme of the Winter Olympic Games. The reason is simple: this is probably the only sport that would allow African players to participate in competitions.
Indeed, it is difficult to find a more democratic sport serving peace and mutual understanding than chess. I am deeply convinced that this game could change the world for the better. But, unfortunately, it is not able to stop the war.
I've known Muammar Gaddafi since 1991. I knew him as a highly intellectual person and as a poet. Of course, Gaddafi perfectly played chess, we played it whenever we met. In 2004, we held a kind of world championship with him in Tripoli that was a completely modern and developing city. And the next time that I saw the capital of Libya in June 2011 it was totally destroyed by the bombings of the western coalition.
Having received a personal invitation from Gaddafi to visit his residence, I offered him to play chess. I am sure that if the world saw Gaddafi at the chessboard, people would have understood that he was not the crazy African dictator and will demand their governments to stop the senseless slaughter and sit at the negotiating table.
How wrong I was! We played for two and a half hours, but as it turned out, the outcome of this game was predetermined by the leaders of the Western world in advance.
I will never believe that Western countries have unleashed this carnage because of the alleged crimes of the Libyan Jamahiriya’s leader. Gaddafi wanted good for his people and the prosperity of the whole of Africa, for which he tried to pursue an independent policy. And the West is used to seeing Africa as its fief.
Perhaps I will write a banal thing now, but it’s worth remembering. Almost half of the world's mineral resources are concentrated on the African continent. The developed European countries began to master them from the very beginning. Oddly enough, the cake was so huge that the "masters" did not even really fight for a piece of it among themselves unlike what was happening in Europe. In 1885, England, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and France simply divided the West Africa, and five years later, England, Italy and Germany did the same with the eastern part of the mainland.
I don’t need to write about how the “mastering” took place. Anyone can see how they "developed" the Belgian Congo. In other parts of Africa, things were no better: everyone knows about predatory robbery of natural resources, genocide of the population and endless crimes of “civilizers”. Unfortunately, the continuation of colonial politics still hinders the development of African countries.
It is important that Russia never participated in this European rampage, although it did not try to stop it. Nevertheless, the Russian society was always interested in Africa. Russian scientists have made a great contribution to the study of this continent, our doctors selflessly fought and continue to fight endemic and diseases.
For its own ideologically based reasons, the USSR made a large contribution to the development of African countries. Moreover, during this period of our history, we not only helped many African nations to get freedom from the colonial yoke, but also became intermediaries in settling internal and interstate conflicts that often directly followed the colonial period. The legacy of the USSR in Africa was factories, roads, schools and much more.
Unfortunately, in the nineties of the last century, we almost forgot about Africa. But it is still grateful to Russia and is open to cooperation with our country.
For its part, such cooperation is extremely important for us too primarily in the economic. A year ago, on the eve of his African tour, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that Africa would become the largest sales market in the coming decades. They are interested in a large range of Russian goods not limited by weaponry only. Such are food, processing equipment, fertilizers and more.
Our joint projects in the field of geological exploration and construction of energy infrastructure are already developing. Russian teachers are traditionally highly regarded in African countries. And yet, there is still much to be done the field of economics.
Working in FIDE, I knew how important the support of African countries was. Historically, even though there are internal disagreements in some places, the African act as a united front internationally. For example, Africa has 54 votes in the UN: what a strong international support for our initiatives it can become!
And, of course, we must not forget about such a world-wide misfortune as religious extremism. Remember Sudan: we have a common front of struggle both in this country and in many other African states.
Therefore, I highly appreciate the work our country’s leadership that recently started paying more attention to Africa. We are gradually (I would prefer it to be done more effectively) increasing our economic cooperation. Political engagement is also strengthening. One of the largest African countries, South Africa, is part of the BRICS community (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that altogether produce a quarter of global GDP. And in my opinion it is the South African Republic that will be the driver of growth.
I hope that the first Russia-Africa summit scheduled for October will give a start to the accelerated development of our cooperation. I will repeat it again: on this still distant for us continent there is everything - both natural resources and intellectual, hardworking people - in order to become a new centre and driving force of human civilization development in the third millennium.