Winning the first runner up title on December 27, 2017, at the Miss Africa beauty pageant came as a surprise for Rwandan representative, 23 year old, Fiona Muthoni Naringwa.
“I wasn’t well prepared as I was invited on short notice but being a Christian, I knew that God was with me and when I went there I didn’t have the mentality of ‘I want to be better than the girl next to me’. I just wanted to give it my very best,” she says.
Muthoni pocketed $10,000 (about Rwf8.5 million) and will be doing a number of projects in Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries.
The contest had two sessions, a finale where and pre- judging session where pageants were asked individually about climate change and other social issues which determined the finalists. The top five finalists were then asked about migration in Africa.
She describes her experience at the pageant as adventurous yet challenging.
The competition was, initially, about climate change but towards the finals, the governor changed it to migration which was difficult for us because we had to come up with projects which became challenging.”
“The pageant, however, means a lot to me especially because I am Rwandan. Being outspoken, many people found me different because they thought most of the Rwandan girls are very conservative. Being one of the winners breaks a barrier and shows that we can speak out and be heard. It also shows that we have beauty and brains and that we are coming for the world,” she says.
Her Rwandan experience
Born in Kenya to Rwandan parents Muthoni only moved from Kenya to Rwanda in 2014, to live with her grandmother after her aunt that raised her passed on. She immediately enrolled in the School of Journalism, to pursue her dream course at the University of Rwanda.
“I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. Growing up I watched former Citizen TV anchor Julie Gichuru and I admired her confidence and how she spoke. Like her I wanted to have a platform where I could speak out and inspire girls and that’s how I chose journalism. Journalism also helps with communication skills,” she says of her dream career.
Muthoni is also a model, a profession that she began when she was 16 years old back in Kenya where she got most of her training. At the age of 17, she got signed to an agency in Kenya before she moved to Rwanda.
“When I moved to Rwanda I took a break because I thought I wouldn’t continue because I didn’t know how the industry was until I realized that it was actually developing and decided to be part of the industry,” she says.
She has been lucky to participate in some of the shows, some in Kigali, Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana.
Moving toRwanda however, getting an employment for her was difficult mostly because she did not speak the local language. She decided to seize the opportunity for MissRwanda 2015 “to get exposure and show people that I can do more even though I do not speak Kinyarwanda.”
“I applied for it because I wanted to feel Rwandan having lived abroad for so long. I also wanted to be fully integrated into the Rwandan system. The pageant was a platform for me to expose myself, show my capabilities, my character, my self-esteem.”
She was eventually crowned Miss Rwanda third runner-up in 2015.
“Winning the third runner up title, came as a surprise and it has opened many doors, like employment and has got many people to respect me.
I also inspired some girls like Naima Rahamatali who contested for Miss Rwanda 2016, who didn’t speak Kinyarwanda. It shows that nothing is ever small and everything you do can impact people positively,” she says.