Joint Declaration by West African Federations on Presidential Elections
The Presidents of the National Chess Federations of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria have signed a joint declaration which expresses their “concern with the campaign strategy and tactics currently being employed by certain members of the Executive Board of FIDE in the context of the forthcoming elections for the role of President of FIDE.” One of these nations, Nigeria, was visited by the FIDE President this week.
In the coming months, until the FIDE Presidential elections in August in Tromsø, both the incumbent Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and his challenger Garry Kasparov will be fighting for votes in all continents. Western European federations are mostly pro-Kasparov, while Mr Ilyumzhinov is traditionally strong, if not unbeatable, in South America. It will be interesting to see the effect of Mr Ignatius Leong, still FIDE's General Secretary, operating in South East Asia for Mr Kasparov, and whether their leaked agreement will play a role.
At the moment things seem pretty unclear for one particular continent: Africa. With many small federations, also there Mr Ilyumzhinov is expected to gain a majority of votes, but perhaps things may be different this time. At least three federations have expressed their firm support for Mr Kasparov: Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.
The Presidents of the National Chess Federations of Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria have signed a joint declaration (in PDF here) which expresses their “concern with the campaign strategy and tactics currently being employed by certain members of the Executive Board of FIDE in the context of the forthcoming elections for the role of President of FIDE.” They write:
Over the course of the last several weeks, we have been approached, like many of our neighboring African chess federations, and requested to either host or participate in “visits to our countries” by Mr. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, President of FIDE since November 1995.”
FIDE's website traditionally reports on the foreign visits of its President. At the time of writing, two of such articles can be found on the FIDE.com homepage: Trip to Togo, and Visit to Cameroon. According to the Presidents of the Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria federations, these trips have a different purpose.
“Almost everywhere, such visits are being officially presented as the occasion to launch “Chess in Schools Programs” in the countries being visited. In actual fact, these visits are being used to exert significant political and financial pressures on the local chess federation Presidents to cast their votes for Mr. Ilyumzhinov, who will be running for his fifth term as FIDE President in the 2014 FIDE elections.”
The three presidents, Adeyemi Olalekan (Nigeria), Essoh Jean Mathieu Claude Essis (Cote d’Ivoire) and George Kweku Arko-Dadzie (Ghana), see the upcoming elections as “[an] opportunity to evaluate and to question the contribution of the current FIDE leadership to the development of chess on our continent as compared with that in other parts of the world”. They conclude:
“In our own evaluation, both individually and collectively, FIDE’s record on these last two fronts is poor. We have assessed the current FIDE leadership’s policy for Africa over the course of the expiring term of office and we believe that this can be summarized by three words: Contempt, Neglect and Inaction.”
The joint letter is dated last Monday, February 17th. On the same day the FIDE website reported on “working meetings” by Mr Ilyumzhinov to Angola and... Nigeria, one of the three federations that signed the critical letter. According to the FIDE report, in Nigeria Mr Ilyumzhinov met with FIDE Zone 4.4 President Mr Sani Muhammed, former President of Nigerian Chess Federation Mr Emmanuel Omuku, and “the leadership of Nigerian CF”.
However, the General Secretary of the Nigerian Chess Federation, Mrs. Bidemi Ganiyu-Opolo, told Chess.com on the phone that no meeting took place between the Nigerian federation's President, Mr Olalekan, and Mr Ilyumzhinov.
“They told us on Sunday that Mr Ilyumzhinov was around. However, Mr Olalekan was too far away to come and on Monday morning Mr Ilyumzhinov had already left.”
Mrs. Ganiyu-Opolo described the relationship between the Nigerian Chess Federation and the current FIDE leadership as “cold”.
On Twitter one of FIDE's Vice Presidents, Ali Nihat Yazici, reacted to the letter of the three Presidents:
@alinihatyazici what is ugly? the pdf file was written by Jurgensen Graham Ian, someone from GK Chess Foundation in Africa!— Ali Nihat YAZICI ( @alinihatyazici) February 18, 2014
The PDF of the letter does contain the info that it was created by a “Jurgensen Graham Ian”. The Kasparov Chess Foundation Africa website lacks any information about persons involved in the organization, but in their newsletters it is mentioned that Mr Jurgensen is the Director of KCF Africa. It seems likely, and not surprising, that the three Presidents are in close contact with KCF Africa.
Mr Yazici further tweeted:
@alinihatyazici We call that "being faceless" in my language, writing something and asking people to sign it like they purchase votes!— Ali Nihat YAZICI ( @alinihatyazici) February 18, 2014
@alinihatyazici who is calling transparency for us dirty with full bribery, complete hypocrisy! They will get their lesson of democracy!— Ali Nihat YAZICI ( @alinihatyazici) February 18, 2014
The FIDE Presidential elections will be held at the next FIDE Congress, during the Chess Olympiad in August in Tromsø, Norway. Over the next six months the two candidates, Mr Kasparov (campaign website here) and Mr Ilyumzhinov (so far only using FIDE.com, to Mr Kasparov's anger), will be living in airplanes more than ever, traveling to continents, speaking to delegates and trying all means available to pursuade them. The recent leaking of contracts and the developments in Africa have made one thing clear: it's a gonna be a very tough fight.