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Monday, January 7, 2008

Has the curtain fallen on the Miss Uganda pageant?

PAGEANT WITHOUT PAGEANTRY: MKM promotions organised a low key search for Miss Uganda that was far from Sylvia Owori's pomp and pageantry. This year there is no contest, writes Dennis D. Muhumuza

The only thing she has to show for being the reigning national beauty Queen is the little medal she won at the Miss World Talent show after a convincing presentation of her poem -The African Child. It was December last year in Sanya, China where she was Uganda's ambassador at the 55th Miss World showdown.

Today, Ms Praise Juliet Asiimwe [pictured], 22, can only look back and reminisce the month she spent on Sanya Island, strutting and generally having fun. While her predecessors cruised around in prize cars that came along with winning the crown, the reigning beauty uses the matatu like ordinary folks because she cannot even afford special hire taxis.

"I have sat in taxis where men have openly stared at my boobs and touts refused to return my balance saying I'm Miss Uganda," she says.

It all began when whispers spread that Praise was the worst performer at Miss World -a rumour she trashed saying she was among the top 25, being the only African to have won at the talent contest.

As Miss Uganda, she wanted to lead sexual abstinence campaigns but her office didn't open as was supposed to on January 3, 2006. Now she carries herself with a grim, powdered face well aware that she will surrender her crown without any tangible achievements.

She blames MKM Promotions, the event management company that took over from Zipa Models Managing Director, Sylvia Owori, to run the Miss Uganda Beauty Pageant. .

"My predecessors received extra support and sponsorship that pushed them to accomplish things, while I've been left in the dark," she says.

Indeed, Victoria Nabunya (2001) led a Mammogram Fundraising project that resulted in the purchase of a machine that detects breast cancer; Dr. Rehma Nakuya (2002) promoted reproductive health while Aysha Salma Nassanga (2003) laid a platform of promoting the Girl Child Education.

And for a girl inspired by British born supermodel Naomi Campbell, she said it galls that she will be remembered as the beauty queen who registered little success. She is not even featured anywhere on the official Miss Uganda website yet the website flashes Barbara Kimbugwe (2004) and a full-size portrait of Sylvia Owori herself striking a seductive pose.

Not crowned
Clearly, the model who beat fourteen contestants to the crown at a lifeless ceremony held at Little Flowers, Bat Valley, in October last year -is not officially recognised.

"I was supposed to be unveiled to the public on October 24 last year but I wasn't," she says. "Can you imagine I was not even crowned? All I have is a Miss Uganda sash."

When Reverend Elly and Mrs Joice Akankwasa's daughter became Miss Uganda, the organisers promised her "heaven on earth -they are very good at promising and very good at not delivering."

"They promised to send me for a short business course in Europe in exchange for the prize car I was supposed to get but they didn't. They were disappointed I didn't win the Miss World crown because they expected to gain much," she said. "When I arrived, nightmares began. I wanted to clean the city and I was told that that was politics. I drew proposals for a charity concert -I wanted to work with Angella Katatumba; she has helped children in northern but MKM frustrated my efforts. I invited Miss World Africa (Miss Tanzania Nancy Abraham Sumary) for a visit and she promised to come on condition that we cater for her accommodation and transport back. Again the organisers said they had no money. It's been hard; if it was not for Ruth Kibirige, I don't know how I would have managed," she added.

Ms. Kibirige is the Director of Tiner International School of Beauty where Praise was groomed in preparation for the Miss World competition.

"She has been like a mother. She helped me clear at the airport when I was going to China since I had never traveled abroad," she says. "She ensures I look as Miss Uganda should look."

Praise who recently completed her first degree in Mass Communication at Makerere University, said the organisers insisted she couldn't handle media pressure and advised her "to do backdoor work."

Timber dealers
Any national beauty is supposed to have sparkly designer clothes, shoes, makeup and the basic beauty products plus a monthly allowance that so befits her status but Praise says she only depends on pocket money from her father.

"It was doom when Sylvia Owori left," she says. "These guys deal in timber. They cannot handle Miss Uganda as an institution. I know the nation is disappointed with my performance but I want to assure Ugandans that I've not failed my country, I've been failed by MKM. If the next Miss Uganda expects little she won't be disappointed, but if she expects much she will be very disappointed."

No contest this year
Management at MKM Promotions was very reluctant to respond until Mr Abu Mayanja, who handles public relations only sent a text message: "We invest and you guys shoot, it's not fair. We can give you a more positive story -if you go negative we all lose. You shoot it down (the Miss Uganda Institution) it only dies," it read.

Ironically, Praise will reign for two successive years. The Managing Director of MKM Promotions Ms Solaire Galiwongo confirmed over the phone that there will be no national beauty pageant this year. She cited lack of sponsorship.

"We've already consulted the Miss World organisers about it and they understood. Last year we organised a small pageant which was criticised widely in the press," she said. "Right now, we are busy organising the 2007 pageantry."
Published in Daily Monitor, Friday, September 1, 2006