Outgoing Miss Rwanda, Jolly Mutesi, will officially hand over her crown on February 25 2017. He year-long reign has seen her represent her country at levels she never dreamed of, and, given her the chance to take part in various activities, like cultural tourism promotion events. The 20-year-old had a chat with Society Magazine’s Donah Mbabazi about her journey and why getting more girls to try their luck in the pageant is something she hopes for.
How has your life changed since winning the crown?
Miss Rwanda gave me the chance to live my dream; it opened various doors. I have managed to meet very many inspiring people who have helped me learn and achieve so much. I have met different ambassadors who were willing to see me aim higher as a young woman. The other thing is that I got a chance to make an impact in society and I have always dreamed of seeing myself contribute positively to society and now I am doing it, so this has changed my life in many ways.
How did you first get into beauty pageants?
Actually, that was my first time; I decided to take part because I wanted to get the exposure. I had the courage to contest but I also got support from my family and friends, because when I told them that I wanted to take part in it, they said that they wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t.
Has your reign been everything you expected?
It has been more than I expected, I thought it was going to be mostly within Rwanda but it went global; for sure it has been more than what I expected.
And how has holding this title benefited you?
It has really benefited me a lot, meeting different people who have taken me to another level in life, being able to do the things I have done, it’s all because of this title.
When you won the title, what did you expect to achieve?
I wanted to guard and protect the image of Miss Rwanda and make people adjust their mindset towards this and understand that it’s not all about displaying beauty but rather, a great thing that goes beyond that. The other thing is, I wanted to represent my country well because I believed I was like an ambassador, so portraying the country’s image in the right way was vital.
Have you managed to meet some of them?
Yes. For sure I have and I know that the country is really proud of me.
What one change would you like to make in today’s pageant industry?
I think people shouldn’t look at pageants like fashion shows, they should see beauty queens as leaders because we have the potential to make change and can actually have influence.
What was your most memorable moment as Miss Rwanda?
I cannot forget the night I was crowned, that day was a remarkable one in my life, I felt so happy. I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Have you ever suspected that there is rigging in beauty pageants?
I suspected once but this was before I joined the competition, I used to hear people talk about it but when I took part, I noticed that it’s not what people think it is.
Any remarkable things you have done during your reign?
Seeing myself make a difference in the lives of the children in Kinyinya left a mark in my heart. I helped them fight malnutrition. As a beauty queen, I sensitised society on taking part in finding solutions to the problem through building kitchen gardens. I engaged with youth retractors across East Africa and we built 50 kitchen gardens for 50 families that were survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Kinyinya village as a way of ensuring food security in households. I also pledged to provide milk every day for 120 children between the ages of three to six because this is an essential stage in a child’s growth; and this will come from my salary. So, looking out for them and making a difference in their lives was something I was honoured to do.
Any challenges you faced?
Not really; I didn’t face any challenges that I couldn’t handle. I always got support and whenever things got hard, I kept moving because I never allowed it to pin me down. That’s why I don’t call them challenges.
What is your take on the mindset that beauty pageants demean women?
They don’t, on the contrary, they empower women. You get the confidence knowing that you are a woman and that people look up to you.I do not find that demeaning at all.
How have you managed to handle the fame that comes with this crown?
I like being a people’s person, I don’t fear people apart from instances where the media criticises you, which was hard at first but I learned how to handle that. It didn’t give me a hard time because I didn’t change. I have always been like this.
What’s been the highlight of your reign to this point?
Being introduced in the Youth UNESCO Forum. When I met these people from UNESCO they were really excited about some of my achievements and what I am planning to do, they presented me with such a big opportunity.
How did it feel being the first Rwandan beauty queen to take part in the Miss World contest?
It was remarkable.Being the first beauty queen to represent the country in the Miss World competition is history that will never be erased.
How was that experience for you?
I got a little bit nervous because it was the first time for me and everyone expected a lot from me. I was under a lot of pressure, how I was going to represent the country’s image, then there was the issue of preserving culture. But what I discovered was that despite our country being small and people barely knowing about it, we have potential. I am saying this because some of the girls I talked to didn’t have bigger prospects as most of them had eyes for fashion and advertisements, we are empowered and I thank our government for this.
Any challenges you faced?
The challenges were not that many, the only challenge was that it was my first time and it’s an international beauty pageant, so you get kind of panicky. Otherwise, things were really good.
What are your career aspirations after you leave the pageant circuit?
I am joining university, I will also be starting up some initiatives and different projects and very many other things will come up in the course.
What should the in-coming Miss Rwanda expect as the next beauty queen?
Let her think big but above of all, let her love whatever she wants to do, stand confident and believe in herself, everything will fall in place.