She is one of the continent's most remarkably talented chess players. Born in 1996, her life as a Ugandan chess prodigy growing up in Kampala’s poorest slums inspired a major Hollywood movie titled Queen of Katwe in 2016.
Today, we celebrate Phiona Mutesi, a woman who has represented Uganda at four Women's Chess Olympiads, and is one of the first titled female players in Ugandan chess history.
Hers is a modern day Cinderella story, a fairy tale of a young girl from the slums who defied odds to become a Hollywood story.
In her life adapted Disney movie "Queen of Katwe," Mutesi's shows her life growing up in Katwe, Kampala’s largest slum.
Her father died when she was a toddler. From a very young age, she and her siblings had to sell maize on the street instead of going to school.
"My life was just surviving," Mutesi says in one of the interviews.
Her life story was however about to change when as an illiterate girl just aged 9 years in 2005, she met her future coach, a missionary in Katwe called Robert Katende.
The meeting on it's own was not planned. Phiona had secretly followed her brother Brian to Katende's chess classes. As she curiously peered to watch kids like her play chess, Katende noticed her and called her.
This was to be the beginning of her life in chess. After that, she would walk 6km daily just to go and play the game.
In 2010, Mutesi played six rounds on board two and one round on board one for Uganda at the women's event of the 39th Chess Olympiad, held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. She scored one-and-a-half points from the seven games she played. At this event, she attracted the attention of journalist Tim Crothers, who wrote a substantial piece on her.
Commenting on one of her games from the 2010 Olympiad, British chess journalist John Saunders wrote that "Phiona's present playing standard is that of a modest but competent club player but, placed in the context of her environmental and educational deprivation, her achievement in reaching such a level has been awe-inspiring.
In 2013, she again played in the National Junior Chess Championship in Uganda and reached the finals against Lutaaya Shafiq of Makerere University. She won the under-20 girls category but not the open category.
Mutesi represented Uganda at the 2014 41st Chess Olympiad and the 2016 42 chess Olympiad.
She joined Northwest University's chess team in competing at the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Championship, held in Columbus, Ohio, in December 2017. The team won the title of "Top Small College" for Northwest University, taking it from the title holders of four consecutive years, Oberlin College. Mutesi won three matches and drew one, playing on Board 2.
Mutesi's life, as authored by Tim Crothers was published in a book titled The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster.
The book was brought to life when Walt Disney Pictures bought the rights to adapt it into a movie. In the movie, which stars Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo, Mutesi is portrayed by Madina Nalwanga.
Mutesi attended the premiere of the film in Toronto, Canada (10 September), Hollywood, California (20 September), and Kampala, Uganda. The royalties from the book have provided Mutesi and her family much more financial security than they have ever enjoyed, a girl child choosing to challenge.
In 2019, Phiona Mutesi traveled the world sharing her story to thousands and serving as an inspiration that one can find a beacon of light in the darkest of circumstances.
Mutesi was among the delegates for The 7th International Working Group on Women and Sport (IWG) World Conference commences held on May 17-20 at the Gaborone International Convention Centre (GICC) Gaborone, Botswana, themed ‘Determine the Future, Be Part of the Change’ which attracted around 1200 delegates around the world including members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympic Committees, International Sport Federations, the United Nations, Special Olympics, Paralympics, Inter-Governmental Organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations as well as leading researchers, government officials, athletes, sport administrators and coaches.
ASVG, Africa and the world thank you Queen of Katwe.