Community, Diaspora and Immigration
Exclunsive interview with Maria Namiiro, Miss Uganda (UK) 2009
You have won the Miss Uganda Beauty Contest in 2009. Such contests are primarily concerned about the physical appearance of a person’ face and to a certain extent body shape. In addition to this, beauty is also a very subjective concept, as its criteria will differ from person to person.
What do you think about such contests? And what made you enter the contest in the first place?
Maria: I believe I am a pretty woman and I believe in my own beauty internally and externally. I also believe that Africa represents some of the most beautiful people in the world. In addition, beauty queens are also associated with charities. My interest has always been in ‘beauty with a purpose’.
There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding your victory. One objection was that you were not even a Ugandan resident, as you currently live in London, and that you were maybe not best placed to represent Uganda. What are your thoughts on this?
Maria:There are not many avenues where a Ugandan can get involved to represent our country. Many people are not aware about dual citizenship and the laws that govern it. As a Ugandan, I am entitled to fully represent my interests on both the national and world stage.
When the opportunity presented itself, and there was no discrimination against people like me who hold dual citizenship, I felt it was the right opportunity to indentify as a Ugandan and be proud of it.
What is your opinion on Uganda’s image in the West? Do you think something needs to be done to revive it positively?
Maria:On the world stage contests and the various countries I visited, I found that what is most known about Uganda is the late Idi Amin for his atrocities, AIDS and wars.
Uganda is a beautiful country. It is called The Pearl of Africa, but it faces problems that many of the citizens are not aware of due to the lack of exposure. The best way to revive the image of the country is by re-visiting our values and indentifying with our beautiful cultures, conserving our environment and making sure we indentify as Ugandans on the world stage.
Once a woman has been elected through this contest to represent her country, what is usually expected of her afterwards?
Maria: She is expected to get involved in charity work for the country; to represent Uganda on an international stage at the Miss World; choose a charity she passionately believes in to work with and become an ambassador/representative for her country. Above all, Miss Uganda should be someone with the will to change the lives of the poor for the better. She should also endeavour to advocate and promote the interests of Uganda as a whole, to represent Ugandans on an international stage lobbying for good causes, to promote cultural beliefs, values and the norms of her country.
What has your victory enabled you to do for Uganda so far?
- I represented Uganda at the Miss World in Johannesburg, South Africa which took place in December 2009. I was in the top 40 of Beach Beauty out of 113 contestants. I had the honour of meeting the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma where I knelt down to him as a way of promoting Ugandan culture which was the theme.
- I represented Latitude Care Network (LCN) and young people of migrant and refugee background at the first ever UK Refugees and Migrants Climate Change Forum at the Amnesty International HQ in London.
- I still participate in a number of fundraising activities that have raised or are raising both financial and material resources for LCN, my official charity and many other charities and social purpose organisations in the UK and aboard.
- I attended the International Breast Cancer Awareness Conference which took place in Kampala on 15th and 16th March 2010. As part of my charity work, I represented LCN and the women of Uganda at the conference.
- I attended Miss Alicia Keys Black Tie charity ball titled “KEEP A CHILD ALIVE” where I had the honour of being a representative of Uganda at the event, dedicated to providing life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, care and support services to children and families whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Alica Keys’ charity has done work in Uganda for HIV/AIDS victims.
- In Uganda, I have worked with volunteers from the UK for READ INTERNATIONAL. We distributed 29,000 relevant, good-quality textbooks, sports equipment, renovating and equipping libraries and stationeries to 20 secondary schools in Mubende and Masaka districts. We intend to expand our activities to more districts in Uganda.
- I am in collaboration with Ganda Foundation to raise awareness of Kawolo Hospital (Mukono District, Uganda). For more information visit: www.gandafoundation.com
Do you feel that you could have achieved the same without winning the contest?
Maria: I doubt I could have achieved so much to date if I did not have the platform of Miss Uganda. .
What would be your advice to young women who want to enter such a contest in the future?
Maria: Representing Uganda does not identify with money, glamour and fame. It is ‘beauty with a purpose’ and it addresses the dark issues that the children, women and citizens of Uganda as a whole face.
What is your analysis on current cultural values of our young generation? Do you think that there’s a lot of bad influence from the West, and what do you think needs to be done?
Maria: We as Ugandans have an important role to play both on the national and international scene. African values and morals need to be shared and expressed worldwide to make an influence on the West.
It is true that the West is influencing our ways of life and our culture. This is most apparent on the music scene where most Ugandans think it is fashionable and great to act as Americans and Jamaicans. We need to learn from the West what is good for us Africans.
There is a sense of moral decay especially amongst teenage groups who are copying horrible habits like smoking marijuana (weed), creating western style ghetto scenes in Uganda involving gun fights, which does not reflect the true morals and norms of Uganda. It is both the role of the government and parents to pass on the family values if we are to have a future respectable generation in Uganda.