Miss Tourism Uganda embraces culture and marginalised

It is now official. The 19 year old Pauline Akurut, who was also Miss Teso 2015, is the Miss Tourism Uganda 2015.

When the regional Miss Tourism pageants took off in April this year, probably none of the 22 young women who will compete for the final crown knew what today would be like.

For many, the regional contest was the first time they had stepped out in the public to take their place. It was the first time to answer to a panel of judges. And still for some, it was the first time the pageant was coming to their community – with all the expectations and cultural challenges that come with that. It was a bold step.

For the first time, the Karamoja and West Nile tourism clusters were part of the Miss Tourism Uganda competition. The nomadic Karamajong from the land of Kidepo National Park sent in their first every Miss Tourism beauty queen. On the opposite side of the country, the people of West Nile, often better known for their infamous son Idi Amin, produced their first Miss Tourism beauty pageant this year.

So, in bringing in the major regions, Miss Tourism Uganda 2015 could fully celebrate the cultural diversity of under the theme Celebrating Uganda’s Cultural Diversity. The other regional clusters were Ankole, Eastern/Bugisu, Buganda, Bunyoro, Busoga, Kigezi, Northern, Teso, and Tooro, bringing the total to 11. Clusters are tourism development areas that are being developed around unique offerings found in each region.

Every region sent three finalists to the national boot camp that was held in the Queen Elizabeth National Park in August. Here for five days, the beauty contestants lived together with people from other regions in an environment they had only read about, if at all. Later they moved to the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe fondly known as the zoo where they learnt how to care for wildlife, buildfriendships, and cultural bridges.

And with a new confidence and transformation, they took on the final day opening with the competitive the creative wear. Here Karamoja, the new comer showed her uniqueness. Karamoja's Celestine Dan Acheng impressed with her outfits. They were designed by a blind woman from and living in Karamoja. Others took a bold move. Peace Atim from northern Uganda turned heads with her “outfit” of sesame (simsim) seeds sprinkled on her bare bosom, baskets for a skirt.

This was Miss Tourism with a difference. For the first time, Miss Tourism Uganda pageant had the special needs category – Miss Tourism Independent. Joan Namubiru faced off with Aisha Bahati for the Independent title. Namubiru just could not dance into the hearts of the audience in spite of showing of her grooving moves. But it was for Bahati to take Miss Tourism Independent through flawlessly plaiting on co-emcee Flavia Tumusiime’s hair, and then singing her heart out in Rema Namakula’s Kukaliba.

"Uganda has so many people with disabilities and they are all left out of tourism activities. This is the first step in involving them in tourism activities," said Dr. Maria Mutagambwa, Uganda’s Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.

All said and done, in the end there was going to be one winner. One Miss Tourism Uganda 2015. And Pauline Akurut it was.

Where others stuttered or doubted, Pauline expressed herself in confidence and eloquence stating her purpose when chosen; and why she deserved the crown.

“My mother always inspired me to work hard and be independent as a woman. I am who I am because of her,” says Akurut who will be starting on her diploma in procurement and logistics at YMCA Kampala this September.

Other Winners

First Runner Up - Karen Nyangen

Second Runner Up - Sheila Kirabo

Miss Congeniality - Mable Namala

Miss Conservation - Melody Nekesa Modesty

Miss Personality - Jaylor Birungi

Miss Talent - Camilla Namatovu

Face of Egypt Air - Jaylor Birungi

Face of Radiant - Mable Namala

Face of Shumuk - Jaylor Birungi

Face of South African - Pauline Akurut