It is a typical weekend at the chess club, one of several in war-torn South Sudan, where a growing enthusiasm for the game saw the nation last year secure its first ever gold medal in an international competition since gaining independence in 2011.
Angelo Legge, a civil engineer, also known as Angelo the Great was introduced to club chess during his civil engineering studies in Khartoum during the south’s war for independence from Sudan.
“Chess can bring solutions to South Sudan. As you can see most of the different ethnicities, different tribes are here playing chess. Somebody come from Jongelei, Aweil and all the corners of South Sudan, they are playing here. We become more brotherhood (sic) and we establish respect between ourselves,” he said.
Chess can bring solutions to South Sudan. As you can see most of the different ethnicities.
In South Sudan’s first ever chess tournament in 2014, he came third.
For the young man struggling to forge a life in a country where war has left millions like him in limbo, chess is a panacea.
After more than five years of war that have seen bitter clashes between different ethnic groups in South Sudan, Juba’s Munuki Chess Club has become a haven of peaceful coexistence.
For club president Jada Albert Modi, the game brings people together and helps the citizens of South Sudan to get to know one another outside of the “tribal and ethnic lens.
“It helps to bring people together and South Sudan really needs people to know each other, not through the tribal lens or the ethnic lens, but through capacities, capabilities and hobbies and mutual interests,” Modi said.
Deng Costa, a wiry, soft-spoken 28-year-old, stares at the chessboard in angst as smooth-talking Angelo Legge, 36, with a faux gold watch and mischievous glint in his eye, counters his Sicilian Defence at every move.
Next to the small courtyard where they are having the face off, a deafening roar from young men crammed into a wooden structure watching a Premier League football match briefly breaks their concentration.
“Chess brings people together, that’s why I love it, it can create relationships between us, it can also bring peace to South Sudanese as well,” added Deng Costa, a student.
South Sudan’s chess association was co-founded by Jada Albert Modi in 2009, two years before independence.
It became a fully-fledged member of the World Chess Federation (FIDE) in 2016 in Baku, Azerbaijan, which hosted the first Olympiad attended by the country’s players.