Miss Rwanda: Her triumph, her life and the future

THE NEWLY crowned Miss Rwanda, Colombe Akiwacu, doesn’t strike you as one who was just crowned the most beautiful girl in the country.
Miss Rwanda 2014, Colombe Akiwacu. File
Miss Rwanda 2014, Colombe Akiwacu. File

THE NEWLY crowned Miss Rwanda, Colombe Akiwacu, doesn’t strike you as one who was just crowned the most beautiful girl in the country.

With a brand new Nissan ALTIMA to her name and a bank account with a sum very few 19-year-olds have, she comes off as too mature for her age and doesn’t have that natural ‘teenager’s excitement’.

Women Today’s Collins Mwai spoke to the recently crowned beauty queen about her life, the title she won and what she stands for.

Your new title as Miss Rwanda comes with fame, nosey paparazzi and too many friends. How are you dealing with it? Do you consider it an invasion of privacy?

I am happy with my new title though it gets a little crazy with all the attention. I am still yet to get used to this kind of fame and everybody stopping you to say hi. Not that I mind it, I am glad to have had the chance and opportunity. 

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One can feel a little under pressure when you are not used to everyone looking at you or stopping you to take a picture with you. I didn’t expect to be famous this fast, but it will probably grow on me with time. 

What were you up to before the auditions?

I just finished high school at Stella Matutina High School last year and just got my results. I got into the competition because I wanted to be in a position to inspire fellow girls and women to be more confident and ambitious to pursue their dreams. 

Did you think you stood a chance considering you were up against previous competitors?

Whenever I get into something, I always have in mind that there are two possible outcomes -- winning or not -- but I always give it my best. I did. I did not look at fellow competitors wondering who was better. I was aiming at winning and I kept focused. When I was announced the winner, I was overwhelmed and for a brief moment I felt the ground below me move. The feeling of winning was beyond anything I expected.

Money, fame and the limelight change people. Have you already drawn a new list of friends? Will you still go to college?

I am not going to change my friends just because I am now Miss Rwanda, they have been with me all through. Money and fame come and go after a while, but friends will always be there. I might change the places where I hang out but I clearly cannot change my friends and the people close to me. I do not want fame to get into my head; I will still be me. I will still go to college.

You do not study only for the money or for a job, you study because it makes you more knowledgeable and it gives you skills to apply in life. 

Speaking of college, what are you planning on studying?

I am passionate about fashion design but I am not sure there is a university that offers that in the country. So I guess I will have to figure out a course that I can take.

When the competition was on, there were some nasty comments about it going around about how unsuitable and unnecessary it was. What was going on in your mind when you heard that?

I heard talk that was going round during the competition. But everyone has a right to talk and give their opinion, positive or negative. All the talk didn’t make me feel like I was doing wrong; I knew what I was after and kept focused. People talking should never stop you from pursuing something you want; there will always be talk.

I think beauty pageants like Miss Rwanda are relevant and important to our society. It is a platform for girls to express themselves and stand for an idea they are truly passionate about to change their societies.  

Whoever takes the title as Miss Rwanda has an important role to represent the values of the country and the Rwandan people. It also gives other girls a role model to look up to. 

Speaking of having a cause you are passionate about, what’s yours?

I would like to fight drug and alcohol abuse amongst the youth. Drug abuse ruins young people’s health and reduces their productivity. They become less ambitious and cease to be in control of their lives. It holds back societal development. I may be quite young but I know and have seen the effects of drugs on people. Personally I do not drink and I am not planning on starting. 

Another cause is to see to it that young women and girls are more confident and believe in themselves more. It begins with being confident and believing in yourself and other things will follow; you become more ambitious and reach out for even the wildest of dreams. Most of our young people are currently lacking that and I would like to see more young people believe in themselves by the end of my term.

I plan on involving fellow contestants in the various campaigns that I will be running as we have come a long way together, they have skills and a lot of ideas that can come in handy for the youth’s benefits.

What do you make of the previous Miss Rwanda?

Aurore was a positive role model to Rwandan youth.  There is still a lot to learn from her. She represented Rwanda well and will still be a point of reference in future.

Speaking of representing Rwanda, at some point you realise you might have to catwalk in a bikini? With the entire world watching you, will you chicken out like your predecessor did?

Before getting into any attire I am presented with, I will first think about what values really mean.

By the time you accept to get into a pageant, you must be aware that at some point you might be required to model in a bikini. You should be ready to wear different attires. It is not like there is anything wrong with wearing swim wear. 

Two days ago the Ugandan president signed a controversial anti-gay bill into law, what is your take on homosexuality?

Homosexuality is just wrong; I do not advocate for it and don’t think I will. 

Tell us a little bit about your background. 

I was born 19 years ago in Rwanda. At some point my family lived in the Eastern Province for a while before moving to Kicukiro where we currently live. 

I am the fourth born in a family of five children, two girls and three boys. I would define my family as a middle class family; we are rich in love. 

You still live with your parents, when do you see your boyfriend? 

I chose to keep that under the wraps at the moment, no comment. (Looks away smiling slyly)

A girl has got to have a role model, who’s yours? 

His Excellency President Paul Kagame. He is a true selfless patriot and has put the nation first his entire life. He does things for the country’s good.

I take a lot from Aurore Kayibanda too; she was a true role model to girls and the youth in general. Sonia Rolland too is my role model because of how she carries herself. 

This April we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, in your view, how far are we in terms of reconciliation and rebuilding the county?

It is still a work in progress; we are getting closer to sustainable peace and development each day. As the Ndi Umunyrwanda campaign reminds us often, we are one people and shouldn’t look at each other as different in any way, we have similar ambitions for a prosperous nation.

Experience is at times a good teacher though painfully, we went through tough times in 1994 and are now well aware of the price of conflict and how it can take us back to the dark days.  We should all be keen to see to it that it doesn’t reoccur ever, that we may never turn against each other. 

By your assessment what’s the best thing about Rwandan youth and what holds them back?

There is a lot of talent amongst Rwandan youth, though most of it has to be developed into income generating avenues. We are yet to turn this talent into income generating activities. It is time we opened up our minds to the possibilities that exist through our skills and talents. But it starts with being confident and having the courage to refine our talents and asking for help where necessary. With time, people and corporations will emerge to see you through. 

Another thing holding us back is unemployment. The youth currently make up more than 39 per cent of the productive population, yet the majority are still unemployed. There won’t be much development and progress if most are still unemployed. There should be mechanisms put in place to reduce the unemployed population.

Another thing that holds back the youth is that they are not inquisitive enough, they do not read much or go out of their way to learn. We need to be more ambitious to learn what is not taught in academics. There is need to develop our literacy levels and perfect our communication skills. We should seek to have our skills competitive on an international level and not just local job opportunities.

It would be good if most of us took time to read newspapers, magazines and books.

Some parents have not been supportive of their daughters participating in beauty contests with others terming it as indecent exposure. Were yours supportive?

My parents and entire family have been very supportive. My parents were even excited to hear that I would be participating. All through, they kept encouraging me and giving me all the support they could. They encouraged all their friends to vote for me too.

I think parents should encourage their daughters to participate in such initiatives and be more supportive when they do. 

Just because one beauty pageant went wrong shouldn’t cause everyone to think that the initiative is not worth it. Let the girls make some choices on their own and let them pursue causes they are passionate about.

You don’t think it is a depletion of culture?

Culture has three components - there is the innovative part; culture we got from our ancestors and things we borrow from other cultures. There are always bits we borrow from other cultures; no culture can exist on its own. We just have to ensure that as we borrow from other cultures, we shouldn’t totally water down ours. 

There will always be bits we borrow or do things that did not exist in our culture; we just have to think before borrowing cultural traits.

What do you do during your free time?

I hang out with friends, the same friends that I am not going to change. (laughs)

What’s your favourite food?

(Laughs). You probably won’t believe this but it I love biscuits.

Life Mantra?

It is in French but it roughly translates to, "Before doing anything, know that there will always be people who will try to hold you back or say things to discourage you".


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