What is wrong with Miss Rwanda contest?

Miss Rwanda 2012 contestants pose in bikini during a photo session at Gisenyi Serena Hotel

What is wrong with Miss Rwanda contest?

Last year, during the Miss Rwanda competitions, my sister woke me up and showed me a video of one of the contestants answering a question she had been asked by one of the judges. This contestant’s answer caught fire on social media because of the extremely broken French in which she (barely) expressed herself. I will just go ahead and admit that I laughed uncontrollably and even shared the video with a couple other friends whom I knew would enjoy a good dose of linguistic humor.

This year, as we get ready for another shot at electing the ONE worthy girl who will represent us Rwandans, not only nationally but also internationally, no wonder social media is already swarming with criticism around this competition.

There are many players at stake here. Contestants, institutions and organizers are at the top of my list. Since my cell phone was about to burst with twitter notification around the question of mockery of the contestants, it is only fit that I address this point before anything else.

I disapprove of any remarks that seek to hurt or attack the contestants on a personal level. This means anything from calling them names, to adding on to what they actually said, or even taking out of context some of the things they say.

Language is one hot topic when it comes to this issue, and there are a couple of things that we need to understand about this. First of all, if you are able to detect all of their mistakes in French or English, it is important that you understand the privilege that allows you to be able to express yourself in foreign languages as well as you do. On that note, we all know that we were not all exposed to the same resources, and therefore cannot be held to the same standards when it comes to using those languages.

Secondly, there is the lack of formulating a sound argument or making an informed and clear statement. This also lies, partly, in the limitations in languages. However, there are many people who went to supposedly some of the best schools who are not able to express themselves eloquently. Therefore, this could just be the lack of this specific skill.

What I think is the issue at the core is that the institutions and people in charge of Miss Rwanda elections do not know what they are looking for, or at least do not understand what Miss Rwanda’s role would be. In my opinion, last year, this process died at the recruiting stage. This year does not look promising either considering what we have already seen.

I fully recognize and admire the courage of the contestants, but it goes without saying that they might not have been advised as to what the position requires. Unfortunately, not everyone has critical people who will challenge them into recognizing their strengths and their weaknesses. They might truly believe that they are beautiful and brainy, (which in my opinion, should be the requirements for Miss Rwanda) but it is the responsibility of the recruiters to set standards and determine the minimum necessary skills for a contestant. For some of these contestants to have even endured the ridicule of the public, is, for the most part, the organizer’s fault. There are many qualified ladies who could assume this position, but there is very little incentive for these individuals to participate due to the poor organizing and previous outcomes of this competition. There is no specified role for Miss Rwanda and their responsibilities are almost nonexistent. If these things exist, the general public is unaware of them, and therefore have very little understanding of this program. No wonder this would be demoralizing for any intelligent person, who also happens to be beautiful.

I couldn’t possibly not address that our education system needs a wake up call (actually a reminder of all of the other wake up calls.) It is scary to me that someone is able to finish and graduate from 12 to 15 years of school, after studying in one language, eight hours a day, five days a week, and still not be able to formulate a sentence in that language.

So here are my thoughts in a more concise form:

  • Personal attacks toward contestants are hurtful and unnecessary;
  • Languages are a privilege; so making fun of those who do not have that privilege is immature;
  • Not everyone is lucky to be told the truth about their limitations and areas of growth and betterment;
  • Our education system has horribly failed if someone can go to school and study in one language for 12 years and still not be able to formulate a correct sentence in that language;
  • The organizing team has no sense of what or who Miss Rwanda should be or what she should represent.

On that note, here is what I think is important that we do. Laughing at the contestants will for sure raise awareness about the deeper underlying issues with this contest, but not having any conversation beyond that is just as ridiculous. Without any constructive criticism about how the responsible institutions and organizers can make it better, these will only be shallow useless venting sessions that will yield no positive outcome. We need to question the reasons why we are electing Miss Rwanda, what she represents and how she will represent us all. After figuring that out, we can then proceed to setting standards and opening up the contest to those who qualify. After they have been elected, we need to see concrete ways in which Miss Rwanda is benefiting the advancement of our society and participating to our development. We need something more substantial than the fact that a girl with the perfect height and weight will be getting a car and a year worth subscription to free SULFO products.

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