Since 1993, Rwanda has had seven Miss Rwanda contests. However, not all of the finalists have managed to feature in international competitions such as Miss Earth, Miss Universe and be crowned.
The contest at the international level involves three categories in which swim suit or Bikini show is what most Rwandan representatives have snubbed, or rather participated in without explicitly showing a little inside their bodies.
The major reason for this, they say, is against the Rwandan culture.
Conversely, when one looks at the old pictures, especially those before the introduction of western clothing, Rwandan girls and women used to don in what is known as ‘inshabure’.
This was made out of the bark of trees. It was used to cover mainly the private parts.
In a recent interview with local media, Honorine Hirwa Uwase, who had represented Rwanda in Miss Earth contest in Philippine, she said that she couldn’t wear a bikini while representing Rwanda, because ‘the culture doesn’t allow publicly wearing it.’
Uwase differed with Colombe Akiwacu, who last year represented the country in Miss Supranational contest in Poland. She said that when you decide to participate in the competition, that is confirmation that you go by the set rules and regulations.
The two divergent views are a reflection of a polarised country on the matter, especially those who are considered conservatives and the culturally progressive.
According to Dr. James Vuningoma, the Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture, Rwandan representatives participate in these international beauty contests “knowing all the criteria and everyone has her own perception on culture. Some respect themselves when they reach there; sticking to the culture and refusing to wearing bikinis, but others misbehave and agree to wearing that way.”
Vuningoma added that “Miss Rwanda is a new kind of competition in Rwanda and it doesn’t affect the culture unless it is organised poorly, which can be changed.”
On the other hand, Rene Maurice Habamenshi, commonly known as Lion Imanzi, who has engaged in several beauty pageant contests, argues that “at some point we are the cause of the confusion that is happening in these contests.”
“In Miss Rwanda, we don’t require wearing bikinis, but they do on the international levels, so we either change the competition title to ‘Nyampinga w’uRwanda’ or incorporate criteria of world standards. When we say the crowned pageant is called Miss and send her to compete at the international level, we expect victory not only participation,” he observed.
Manzi maintains that if we apply global regulations in cycling and football, that allows us to even compete in various international tournaments, the same should be inclusive in the beauty pageant contest.
“When you ask the contenders on wearing the same in a swimming pool, they say that bikinis are convenient for that activity, but when there is a category of swimsuit at international competition, then it becomes inappropriate,” he wondered.
Berthe Mukandoli is a mother at 60 years old, a typical conservative Rwandan parent. She says that the modern era has come along with new dress codes, and that shouldn’t be a problem, “but if they have to walk almost naked in those competition, as a parent I don’t support it.”
Mukandoli recalls that even in the era of the monarchy, beauty contests were organised for the King to choose the most beautiful girl to be among his wives, or be prepared to marry the prince or rich men, but they were never naked.
Meanwhile, note that beauty pageant contest began in 1951 in the United Kingdom by Eric Morley. It has traditionally focused on judging and ranking the physical attributes of the contestants, although some contests have evolved to also incorporate personality traits, intelligence, talent and answers to judges’ questions as criteria. But some literature indicates that the oldest beauty pageant was held in US in 1921.