A Night in the Congo: Why I need to learn how to play chess again…

It’s 3:00 in the morning, and instead of being in deep sleep, I’m wide awake and thinking about chess.  The game that looked so simple, yet for so long frustrated me in my youth.  I learned the moves quickly enough.  With competitive zeal, I jumped onto my school chess team and was soundly beat in rapid fashion.

For all my energy and smarts, I had failed to appreciate the history of the game.  I was unaware of the existence of systematic sequences of moves that could guarantee victory, if the opponent didn’t counter.  I knew of the power of the Queen or the Rook, but I underestimated the value of the pawns.  I had yet to learn how to trap my opponent and incentivize them to do things that would ultimately limit their choices and enable my plans.
So, what does any of this have to do with the Congo?
Tonight, I heard a friend and colleague discuss the realities of life in the Congo for so many young women and men, who have never known life without war and oppression.  Yet in the midst of such unfathomable conditions, foreign countries and companies are accumulating wealthy as the natives suffer.  He proceeded to educate me about tales in Bukina Fasa, and others chimed in about similar stories in South Africa.  I reflected on my own experiences in Ghana, Brazil, and Chile.  Do your own analysis of the history of Guatemala, Afghanistan, Iraq…  These mineral rich nations have and continue to be the profit centers for some of the largest companies and countries in the world, which is not news.
What stood out to me tonight though was the common themes that I heard, regardless of the country.  The destabilization of governments, wars, displacement of natives people, entrance of large multinationals organizations (mining companies, NGOs, banking institutions) are always there.
It’s as if there is a game of chess being played and only one side knows all the rules.  The other side keeps getting beat by the 4-move checkmate.  With increased access to information, young people are learning the rules of this international chess game.  They are realizing the abilities of their pawns, bishops and nights.  Awakening to the relatively limited power of their Kings and figureheads.  Celebrating their queens, re-positioning the pawns and giving them full access to the board.
What must happen next is the evolution beyond responding to the last move of the opponent.  The study of the history of the opponent’s moves, must inspire us to create defensive strategies that not only block their predictable moves, but set up an offensive counterattacks.  Achieving an ultimate checkmate may be 1 month, 5 years, or even 2 generations away, but an effective chess player has both short term and long term strategies.
Your opponent is experienced, and your strategies must have depth and conviction.  Every loss you take should be intentional and set up your next move.  We cannot blindly expose our strongest pieces or unnecessarily sacrifice our pawns, nor will we wait and just play defense until we lose.
The game has already started.  The opponent has moved.   Knight  to A3, what’s our next move?

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