Of beauty pageants and their unintended consequences

As most of East Africa counts its losses in relation to the conflict in South Sudan, news from Arusha that the warring factions agreed to mend their fences was timely and welcome. The signing of a reunification agreement aimed at ceasing hostilities in South Sudan is a promising way to start the year.

As most of East Africa counts its losses in relation to the conflict in South Sudan, news from Arusha that the warring factions agreed to mend their fences was timely and welcome. The signing of a reunification agreement aimed at ceasing hostilities in South Sudan is a promising way to start the year.

I am also hopeful that by the time you read this the chaos that engulfed parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past days, will also have come to an end. You see DRC and South Sudan are not part of EAC, but economically they are bloodline for the region as a market for our goods and services.

Meanwhile here in Rwanda, the search to find the person to hold the coveted Miss Rwanda title is already underway. Many times you will hear beauty and Rwanda being mentioned in the same sentence regardless of whether one is talking about the country or the girls. However, just like last year, this year has also seen the pageantry making headlines and sparking debates for all the wrong reasons.

Last year’s process was quite embarrassing and many people probably expected things to be so much better this year thanks to the return of the much loved Culture Minister, Hon. Joseph Habineza who is better known as Uncle Joe in this country. Much as the contest is about finding beautiful girls with the brains to match, there are lots of unintended consequences that compelled to comment on something I would normally not give much attention.

Some of the girls that register for the pageant struggle to communicate effectively even after being given a choice to use whether English or French even when they have been taught in one or both languages for over ten years.

On social media I have tried to listen and gauge people’s take on this dilemma with some arguing that the girls should be allowed to speak in Kinyarwanda since failure to speak good English or French does not imply that they are intellectually challenged. That said they end writing or saying things that become the brunt of social media jokes.

One person even called for the total abandonment of the exercise on the grounds that it is simply a platform that exposes our girls to social ridicule that boys never have to endure. My job is not to complain but to try and offer some unsolicited advice that I hope will be heeded even if it may be a little late for this year’s contest.

Organisers of this beauty pageant need to spend some afternoons mulling over a few issues if they are to avoid future embarrassment. We are in the social media era where idle people with internet access are always looking for the next funny thing. These trolls as they are called cannot wait to land on a letter written by one of the girls pulling out of the competition or a video where another girl struggles with English.

Therefore the organisers need to guard the process jealously by for example not allowing the media or other people to take videos of the preparation stages where many of the girls mess up. The organisers also need to clearly spell out what they expect from the participants long before the selection starts. Since the winner is expected to represent Rwanda at the Miss World competition would it not be prudent to stress and stress that only those comfortable with English or French should apply?

As a teacher who has taught both adults and young people in this country, I am very aware of the challenge that exists regarding language skills in the education system. However I also know that things are not as bad as they used to be ten years back. In other words it is possible to attract contestants with better language skills and avoid embarrassments.

All said and done, I really wish the time and resources that are devoted to these beauty pageants was channeled to other things like science contests, debates, quizzes, cultural festivals or sports contests. The Miss Geek Rwanda is to me a more deserving initiative. We could do with more app developers any day.

For now, the Miss Rwanda contest seems to be more of a source of embarrassment and jokes than inspiration to our young girls who are compelled to adhere to a measured western concept of beauty.

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