Ugandan Army Gives The ‘Miss Uganda’ Beauty Pageant A Radical Makeover


Are you ready for this story? Be prepared to never think about, or look at, beauty pageants the same again, because believe it or not, Uganda has set a new standard of excellence.

At their recent Miss Uganda Pageant, where the winner will go on to compete in Miss World, the event had a decidedly different focus, thanks to their pageant’s new organizers: the Ugandan Army. The new focus? Agriculture and farming. The move was intended to “attract young people into the agricultural sector”, and help to solve the “problems of hunger and poverty among the youth of the country,” according to a statement from Kampala’s presidential adviser on the military, Gen Caleb Akandwanaho.

Opposition party members criticized the move saying it is a scheme to politicize agriculture and farming in Uganda, but it remains to be seen.

Instead of a swimsuit section, the girls were put through their paces in a military-style boot camp, taught how to milk cows, and they also had a chance to show their skills at handling goats and sheep. At the ceremony, contestants were quizzed on farming techniques, as the hosts believe agriculture is a “Ugandan value” and should be celebrated.

The reason this new partnership and makeover came about, was because Ugandan President Yoweri Musuveni felt the agriculture sector had been mismanaged by civil servants, so he decided to use the army instead. Here’s hoping the army takeover doesn’t enable it to turn into a military state like many other army takeovers in the African continent throughout history.

“Pageants can already open up the female psyche to some fresh hell, without the addition of cow pats to the mix,” he said in a statement.

Yeah, let’s get rid of the “fresh hell” and bring in the fresh cow patties instead!


Brenda Nanyonjo, chief executive of Miss Uganda Ltd, said the idea was to steer more young women into agriculture, the biggest sector of the fertile but impoverished east African nation.

“If I get a young woman today with three million shillings ($1,150) and I tell them to start a business, it would be a salon or a boutique,” she said in a statement at the event’s launch.

“Six months down the road they would have very little stock and because there are so many boutiques and salons and nail parlours, it would close down. The young girls who think they’re very glamorous don’t think of agriculture,” she complained.

Kihura Nkuba of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), a Ugandan army programme aimed at boosting rural production, asserted the Miss Uganda competition is now “the most talked-about beauty contest in the world” because of the army partnership.


But seriously, this new focus is worth taking a look at, because while celebrating beauty is great, why do girls have to parade in their bikinis if Miss America and other pageants claim it is more about empowering women than eternal appearances? Why not put their money where their mouth is and swap it out for something like Uganda have done?


Perhaps using the platform of a beauty pageant to redefine how women are perceived is not such a bad idea after all. It is tough to move away from society’s norms of valuing women according to their physical appearance, and beauty pageants don’t exactly have the best reputation, although we have seen some very empowering messages come out from some more recently.

The winner of this year’s Miss Uganda pageant, 23 year old Leah Kalanguka, was crowned on October 25. She is a former mushroom and poultry farmer. We suspect this rebranding was more of an attempt to empower women in general, rather that focus on just one individual.

The former Miss Uganda title holder, Judith Acayo, 24, said she hoped the event would be an opportunity to speak out about women’s rights.

“There are ladies doing agriculture but when they make their money the men take it, especially in the villages,” she said. According to information gathered about women in Uganda in 2012, women have a lower social status than men. Ugandan women do not have equal rights, particularly surrounding land ownership and marriage. Although women make up nearly half of the labor force, the ratio of female income to male income is .70. So the army takeover is allowing women to equip themselves in ways never allowed before.

Contestant Fiona Nassaka, 24, said it was an opportunity to show the people of Uganda that agriculture is not just a “dirty” job, that anyone can do it.

“I’m feeding my country. It’s not only about glamor, there’s something more.”

If this is the future of beauty pageants, count us in! Girls getting dirty in the name of empowerment and possibly stabilizing their future economy? What a beauty!




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