Over the past four (4) years, the Africa Chess Confederation has been under the leadership of Mr Lewis Ncube, and with another election coming up in about five (5) months time, Dr Essoh Essis has decided to pick up the gauntlet and contest for the presidential position to give his best effort in leading Africa Chess to the promise land.
Africa Chess Media breaks this news to the global chess community, as Africa looks forward to the upcoming elections at the Batumi Chess Olympiad in Georgia.
Follow the interview to understand why Dr Essoh has decided to run for the position of President at such a time as this.
For the purpose of this interview, the interviewer Ogunsiku Babatunde would be described by (BO), while Dr Essoh Essis will be described with the initials (EE), enjoy the read:
BO: Who is Essoh Essis?
EE: I am a 57 year old native and citizen of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire. I hold a B.A. degree in Law, an M.A. degree in Public Management and a Ph.D. degree in Public Policy. My doctoral dissertation examines the processes through which State delegates are able to transform expressed individual national preferences into collective public policy decisions, especially in the context of United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty conferences.
I served in several senior level managerial and diplomatic positions in the Cote d’Ivoire Public Administration system between 1989 and 2002. I also served as a researcher and lecturer in law, political science, international relations, public administration, management science, public policy, and conflict analysis-resolution in Cote d’Ivoire between 1997 and 2012, and in US universities between 2002 and 2008. Since 2012 I have served with United Nations peacekeeping missions as a Civil Affairs Officer, mediating conflicts and supporting the restoration of State authority in war-torn countries.
BO: What is your background and experience in the chess industry?
EE: I have been a chess amateur and enthusiast for many years, but I became involved in the “chess industry” only when I was elected President of the Cote d’Ivoire Chess Federation on the 28th of December, 2013 ( and I was re-elected on the 18th of October, 2017). Since then, I led a successful effort to develop the learning and practice of “the noble game of chess” in my country, and our FIDEC team has had many notable successes.
We are especially proud that we were able to raise:
1. The number of clubs affiliated to the federation from six (6) to (25)
2. The number of players holding a federal license from zero (0) to over two hundred and forty five (245)
3. The number of FIDE rated players from one (1) to over twenty (20)
4. The number of national championships held every year from zero (0) to two (2) per year
5. The number of international competitions held in Cote d’Ivoire from zero (0) to an average of two (2) per year
6. The number of FIDE Arbiters from zero (0) to four (4)
7. The number of trained National Arbiters from zero (0) to six (6)
8. The number of school-children formally trained on chess-related topics as part of the national primary school curriculum established by the National Minister of Education from zero (0) to two thousand and two hundred and fifty (2250) in fifteen (15) schools.
We have also partnered with seven (7) other federations from West African countries to organize international competitions in which our respective players were initiated to the dynamics and constraints of participating in FIDE rated tournaments.
I was introduced to the politics of FIDE and ACC elections when I actively prepared for and prominently took part in the FIDE Congresses held in Tromso, Norway (2014) and Baku, Azerbaijan (2016) as my country’s Delegate. Ever since, I have spent a lot of time observing and analysing the serious problems plaguing the leadership and management of these organizations.
In the period leading up to the Tromso Congress, I teamed up with the Presidents of the Chess Federations of Nigeria and Ghana to denounce the widespread use of illegal practices, mixed with empty promises, that were used to secure the votes of African federation presidents or delegates. During the Tromso Congress, I protested strongly against the decision taken by FIDE to recognize an impostor recruited to cast a vote in favour of the incumbent FIDE president, in place of the rightful President of the Gabonese Federation.
I demanded that the FIDE leadership treat African federations with respect and fairness, not only in the institution’s electoral and policy-making processes, but also in the allocation of FIDE resources to national federations for developmental purposes, and in the distribution of chess events around the world. I thus took the lead of a group of 18 African federations who pressed for strict compliance with the ACC by-laws, as well as with basic democratic rules and principles, for the designation of the members of the ACC Board.
These actions have resulted in me being labelled as an “ACC and FIDE opponent, or enemy”. Consequently, ACC leaders have funded and directed numerous initiatives where a small number of chess players and public officials have attempted to remove me from the presidency. Fortunately, a clear majority of our players and club managers have recognized the benefits of our open leadership approach and the unprecedented results achieved by my team, and have therefore voted to express their confidence in us for four more years.
BO: What inspired you to run for the position of President for the African Chess Confederation?
EE: I am running because I have come to the conclusion that real, sustainable development of chess in Africa will remain “but a fleeting illusion to be pursued and never attained” (to use the words of Haile Selassie 1, popularized by Bob Marley in the tune “War”), unless African federations are able to identify and empower leaders that are willing to change the current situation where they are expected to be servile providers of votes for the FIDE kings. This is a phenomenon I have labelled as FIDE’s GOWODBA (“Good Old Way Of Doing Business in Africa”, and that must be abandoned). We need to usher in a new era in which Africa demands respect and receives equal and equitable treatment in the management of FIDE’s affairs, on behalf of the more than 1 billion inhabitants of the continent who are all potential chess players.
BO: Why did you choose to run for this office now and not years before?
EE: I believe the pertinent question right now, is not why I did not run earlier, but rather why I chose to run now instead of waiting to gain more experience and building further relationships within the ACC system before running. My answer to this latter question is that the current circumstances within both FIDE and ACC are so dire that they require bold action by a group of committed and audacious reformists, who are willing to take a stand, at the risk of losing an election, rather than waiting and manoeuvring carefully in the hope of assuming a rotten position within a rotten organization, and ultimately taking advantage of this status quo, which hampers the further development of Chess in Africa and in the world.
We currently find ourselves in a situation where:
- The FIDE Executive Board is heavily divided;
- The two key figures responsible for establishing the current system are now bitterly fighting each other to assume the Presidency, with the intent of perpetuating the current order of things;
- The sitting ACC President is accused by the FIDE Presidential Board of inappropriately handling thousands of dollars.
He is therefore certain to be a sitting duck if re-elected, yet he is fighting hard to save what he sees as “his post”, just for the sake of keeping it.
I am running now, because I had the foresight to denounce the current system four years ago, and because I have the vision and ability to lead the revolution that most African Chess lovers are demanding and are willing to undertake today. I am running now because I believe that the many African federation leaders that endorsed our agenda for ACC reform four years ago are more eager than ever to see it implemented. I also believe that all African federations have been subjected to four years of ineffectual leadership, and there are now many more Federations who realize that they will not survive another cycle of the same rotten processes.
I have chosen to run now, because waiting for another four (4) years will not increase my readiness and ability to bring the change I want to see in the ACC. As things stand right now I am more determined than I ever will be to take on and fight through the struggle as it has presented itself.
BO: What is your vision for Chess in Africa?
EE: In his seminal book My Great Predecessors, Garry Kasparov argues that a World Chess Champion typically arises at the moment in history when their country or region of origin supports a vibrant cultural environment in which innovative intellectual processes can lead to superior developments in other fields of activity.
I believe that Africans especially should view chess as more than a game that one must attempt to master to simply win prize money or titles. In fact, the whole universe of chess (the board and pieces, the rules, the complex set of knowledge, aptitudes and attitudes that are expected of a good chess player, etc.) may constitute the missing link in an educational strategy or policy for African societies, that is conducive to the achievement of success in any human or social endeavour.
I have been privileged to see the huge benefits that chess can bring to a country such as Cote d’Ivoire when we introduced the MiniChess™ training program for children in primary schools. The program uses chess materials and concepts to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, geometry, and other fundamental learning and social skills to children between five and nine years of age. The program is incredibly successful in Cote d’Ivoire, and its results and feedback are similar to those achieved in South Africa, Rwanda, Madagascar, Kenya, Uganda and several other countries around the world.
Moreover, our effort to promote the practice of chess by all members of households regardless of their socioeconomic conditions is progressively building a family culture that favours intellectual challenge and empowerment, and also positively transforming power relations which are generally based on age, gender, income, or level of education differences.
BO: Please share your thoughts on Africa chess talent and what it will take for the continent to compete on the same level in chess as other continents
EE: My own experience attests to the fact that African children are just as talented as kids from every other continent of this world when it comes to learning and mastering any new art or science. At a personal level I am now completely fluent in two foreign languages (French and English) even though I used only my mother tongue to communicate in my first four to six years of life.
I am convinced that all that is needed for African Federations to produce scores of Chess Masters (and perhaps a World Champion within the next generation) is the availability of chess materials, instructors, organizers, arbiters, training programs and events in every country on the Continent. Therefore, I believe that the fundamental role of the ACC president should be to advocate forcefully, tirelessly, and successfully with the FIDE leadership to ensure that current and future African Chess players are provided with equal opportunities. This requires that “positive discrimination” programs are urgently designed and implemented to provide suitable conditions for effective learning, and that capacity-building programs for African Chess federations, clubs, and players are instituted as a matter of priority.
BO: What will be your top priorities should you be elected ACC President? We would also love to know how you would solve the issue of funding for ACC, which currently seems to be a problem for the continent.
EE: My first priority objective is to rationalize and improve the political and operational relations between FIDE and the ACC. This essentially means working to ensure that the ACC leadership is politically independent from the FIDE leadership. We also need to ensure that the ACC has the technical capability to enact, interpret and enforce its own rules, and that it enjoys a significant level of autonomy in financial and operational management decision-making.
With regards to the political independence objective, I am willing to work with any new FIDE leadership team that is elected to put an end to the long list of dysfunctional practices that still exist within the system.
Some of my priorities will include, but not limited to:
- Banning the widespread use of proxies which promote bribery and political influence peddling, and promoting direct participation of delegates in ACC elections, in order to ensure that electoral procedures are democratic, open, transparent, and fair.
- Discouraging the political intrigues orchestrated by FIDE leaders to undermine and discredit those federation presidents whose views are deemed unacceptable to them.
- Working diligently to improve the profound unity of our chess world, “within and without”, and
- Working to “open broad and permanent channels of communication that will fuel FIDE with new ideas and energy, with all the members of our chess family, making sure that everybody can have an active role in the new FIDE.”
My second priority will be to rationalize and improve the management of the ACC itself. This requires an urgent move to identify and mobilize a strong team of African chess experts and enthusiasts while ensuring an equitable representation of all the regions on the Continent. These experts then need to be involved in a far-reaching effort to evaluate the current situation of the Confederation and propose a detailed plan of action that can address and correct past deficiencies (structural, cultural, strategic, and operational), and set the ACC back on the track of development.
Extended consultations with member federations will also be required to rationalize the processes and criteria through which the right to organize ACC funded / sponsored chess events are granted to national federations. Clear guidance is needed to ensure that desired objectives, available resources, organizational capacities and the support required by candidate federations are all considered in the selection process. There clearly needs to be more equity in the allocation of events between regions and countries moving forward.
Finally, it is crucial to tackle the challenge of adopting a strategic action plan for the next four years, complete with the elaboration and adoption of a detailed budget to finance the implementation of the said plan. This exercise is critically important because it will enable us to not only identify, but also clearly define, our key strategic and operational objectives. We then need to be able to measure / quantify the costs and benefits associated with various alternative courses of actions for achieving these objectives.
Once we can identify and measure the gaps between our agreed strategic objectives and our current funding capacity, we can seek to identify new possible sources of funding for ACC activities. These can be in the form of income from our own projects / activities or through contributions from public, private or non-profit sector institutions or personalities. Once we have these sources identified, we can agree on and adopt an actionable strategy to access and mobilize the funding that is necessary.
BO: Why should federations choose you over other candidates?
EE: I believe that my academic and professional training has endowed me with the knowledge, skills and aptitude required for the successful management and leadership of an institution such as the ACC. I also have several years of experience, and a compelling record of achievement in similar organizations.
I also believe that I am the best candidate because I have already proactively undertaken a detailed analysis of the ACC’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and also because I am already experienced with the design and successful implementation of the programs that have resulted in a significant development of chess related activities in my native country. I am of course willing to share our most successful ideas and methods with all interested parties, to extend their benefits throughout the continent.
At this particular moment in ACC history, I believe that a majority of African federation representatives will vote for me because they are witnesses of the fact that I stood up four years ago against the dysfunctional and corrupt practices I have described above. Because they have heard my warnings that these practices would impede the development of Chess in Africa and my demands that FIDE and ACC leaders be held accountable for using such practices. I believe that these federation representatives regard me as a strong and independent voice that can successfully speak on behalf of African Chess federations and individual chess players.
Finally, in a year where the incumbent ACC President is being questioned from all quarters about his alleged misuse of 30,000 USD, I believe that a majority of African federations want to entrust the position of ACC President to a financially independent professional that will not depend on any FIDE leaders for his/her sustenance.
BO: I understand that you have a duty with the United Nations, if elected, how would you run your day to day activities such that neither suffers any setbacks?
EE: I could answer this question with a saying that was popularized in 2008 by US Presidential Candidate Barack Obama to convey the idea that good managers must be multitaskers: “We must be able to walk and chew gum at the same time”. On a serious note however, I do not expect any overwhelming conflict between my duties for the United Nations Organization, which results from a full time salaried position, and the duties I would be expected to perform as ACC President, which is a non-salaried position.
I believe that it is possible to manage the ACC successfully by identifying and mobilizing a good team of committed managers for key aspect of the organization. I am a firm believer in the virtues of decentralization, delegation of power and a non-directive participative management style. My view is that each organizational actor must take responsibility for the quality of the organizational ideas, processes and outcomes for which inputs are required of her/him, and must constantly evaluate their own behavioral performance based on the results achieved.
From this perspective, the ACC President’s role should primarily be to coordinate and supervise the processes through which the stakeholders can adopt a shared vision and direction, identify priority objectives, analyse information on arising issues, make decisions that are capable to resolve any problems identified, monitor the implementation of such decisions, and evaluate their performances based on the fit between the outputs achieved and the agreed objectives.
BO: If elected president, should African Chess be expecting partnerships with the UN?
EE: I would like to think so!
I believe, for instance, that UNESCO could be interested in promoting the innovative teaching methods that have been developed and are currently used in MiniChess™ classrooms in Cote d’Ivoire and in other parts of the world. I would also hope that UNICEF would be interested in using Chess training programs as a way to increase self-confidence and build life-skill capacities in children that are victims or survivors of violent conflict situations. It is possible to identify similar areas of interest for other UN agencies, funds and programs, and we will definitely be looking at the possibility to establish such mutually beneficial partnerships.
BO: Thank you for your time
EE: Thank you too
At the end of this interview, we ask you our readers to have your say, as we go into the thick of the elections.
With the incumbent president also declaring his willingness to contest at the upcoming Africa Chess Confederation Presidential Elections, who would you vote for? And Why?