By Ronnie Mayanja — The inspiring story of Robert Katende, the man behind the success of Ugandan chess champion Phiona Mutesi, begins in a small town in Kiboga District where his teenage mother had to place her son in the care of his grandmother. Uprooted by the Ugandan Bush War insurgency of those years, Robert and his grandmother eventually made it to Kampala.
Later, living in the slums of Nakulabye, he was taken in by two different aunties. Against all odds, he made it to Kyambogo University where he pursued a degree in civil engineering. It was there that he started volunteering with Sports Outreach and two years later, in 2002, he began working for that organization full time.
Having played for Miracle Football Club, Top TV F.C. and Sports Outreach Ambassadors (SOA) F.C. under Coach Aloysius Kyazze, Robert’s ability to help young people with their soccer skills came easily. He also worked with Divine Waters Ministry in partnership with Sports Outreach to drill wells in Gulu. His exemplary and innovative leadership in 15 years of service have seen him as Project Coordinator in Katwe, Sports Outreach Director, Kampala and Nairobi, and more recently Sports Outreach Director for Africa.
He introduced and developed chess programs in the slums of Kampala, Nairobi and in the internally displaced people’s camps (IDP) in Gulu, Northern Uganda, an area severely affected by Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Katende helped the young program participants attain the skills needed to become a credit to their communities.
The impact of the chess ministry program has now hit the international scene with the Walt Disney Pictures movie, Queen of Katwe, which depicts the life of Phiona Mutesi and her rise from the slums to become a chess champion. Robert Katende worked on the movie as a consultant, helping in particular with the chess scenes.
After running the chess program in Katwe for two years, Robert reached out to the Uganda Chess Federation to have the kids participate in the National Secondary School Chess Tournament. After being turned down several times, he persisted and they were eventually given a slot as guest participants, since his program was not part of a school.
Their momentous appearance at the National Secondary School Tournament in 2005 simply amazed the Uganda Chess Federation officials and participants. The kids from Katwe had come from disadvantaged backgrounds and were very young, but the chess board was the equalizer, allowing them to prove their abilities.
The Federation made Robert the Chairman of the Chess in Schools Committee and later Director of Development. In 2006 Phiona became National Junior Chess Champion of Uganda, a title she held for three consecutive years. In 2009 the Katwe chess players represented Uganda at the African Children’s International Chess Tournament held in Sudan. It was during this period that ESPN, the sports network, wrote about Phiona and Robert’s successes.
In 2010 Phiona qualified to represent Uganda at the World Chess Olympiad in Russia at the age of 14. After the ESPN article the writer was inspired write a book to tell the story of Phiona Mutesi and coach Robert Katende. Phiona later represented Uganda at the World Chess Olympiad in Turkey and the World Chess Federation recognized Robert’s work that used chess as a vehicle of positive social impact for less privileged children in the slums. He was later appointed the General Secretary for the Social Action Commission of the World Chess Federation.
Robert has been asked to share his formula for success in other African countries. This has taken him to Rwanda, Kenya and Cameroon where he has conducted chess seminars for instructors. Currently Robert runs chess centers in five different Kampala slums and seven centers in Gulu communities. He also travels the world inspiring others to unlock their potential and has spoken at the Women in the World Summit, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation staff conference, Sports Outreach banquets and is a member of the American Speakers Bureau.
With degrees in water engineering, information technology and computer engineering, Robert also volunteers to help secondary school and university students. Robert and his wife Sarah live in Kampala and have three beautiful daughters–Mercy, Hope and Queen. They host other children he now mentors. Next year he also plans to launch the Robert Katende Foundation to help inspire and transform lives by empowering others.
Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi will be Diaspora Lifetime Achievement Award recipients at the annual Ugandan Diaspora Social Networking Gala Event — Dec. 30, 6:00 PM at the Serena Hotel, Kampala. (www.ugandandiaspora.com)
A special thank-you to Coach Robert Katende for granting Ugandan Diaspora News this interview — This story can only be reproduced by the express permission of the author!
The Uganda Diaspora Network is a forum aimed at bringing together Ugandans who live and work abroad by celebrating their contributions overseas and also encouraging them to give of their time, talents, ideas and expertise whilst inspiring the next generation of Ugandan leaders.
Every year the Ugandan Diaspora Network will organize an annual Social Networking Gala and will also produce a quarterly publication highlighting the successes of the various Ugandans residing overseas. Please send us those inspirational stories and philanthropic work involving Ugandans abroad. We shall share these stories using this platform that is rapidly growing and expanding. The Next Diaspora Social Networking Gala will be Held on 30th December 2016 at The Kampala Serena Hotel.