|Story by Bobastles Owino Nondi
Published November 25, 2006
|Khadija Shamila Kiptoo, Miss World Kenya 2006
It starts with cultural attire, usually covering the body from neck to toe. Then the designers get meaner and leaner with the cloth until the girls on the catwalk are virtually naked. At this point the cheering gets rapturous, with men yelling themselves hoarse. Even before the show is over, men with bulging wallets (never mind bulging zips) and overflowing bank accounts, and young executives–they are the types that throng these events–leap back stage and dish out business cards. Long before the crown is passed on, the young beauty queen is already flying home and away with a foreign boyfriend. BOBASTLES OWINO NONDI, who covered the Ashleys Beauty and Hair Academy – organised-Reach for the Stars: Four Crowns, One Night – beauty pageant in August 2006, writes.
“That is the disturbing image that some beauty queens and some models have cast in the past. And, as a Christian-focused establishment, Ashleys Beauty and Hair Academy has set out to rebuild that unimpressive image and turn beauty pageantry and modeling into respectable trades,” says Janet Leshamta, pageants coordinator, choreographer and chaperon at the franchise holder of Miss World, Miss Tourism, Miss Global International and Miss Teens in Kenya.
Ashleys is said to be the only Christian-based organisation that runs beauty exhibitions at an international level in East Africa.
However, the government of Kenya appears not to appreciate the importance of beauty pageants in marketing the country’s cultures, investment opportunities and tourism.
“Even the Miss Tourism Pageant the government helped to initiate as a tourism marketing medium is not supported. It has left the burden of discovering the girls who should carry Kenyan flag globally to private individuals,” says Leshamta. The government, she says, only comes for the discovered girls whenever it has a need for them. Even then, the treatment beauty queens get from the government at such times of need leaves a lot to be desired. How else can one explain why Miss Kenya, Miss Tourism, Miss Global International (Commonwealth) and Miss Teens, all clad in their sparkling crowns and delicate make-up, could be pushed away to stand in the queue under scorching sun alongside the general public at an international function where they were officially invited by the government as was the case at the International Youth Employment Summit that took place in September 2006 in Nairobi?
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“As Sheila Ominde I would not expect preferential treatment, but when officially invited by the government and donning official Miss Tourism Kenya dress and crown, I think I wouldn’t be asking for too much,” says Sheila Kwamboka Ominde, Miss Tourism Kenya 2006.
|Janet Leshamta, Ashleys Beauty and Hair Academy pageantry coordinator
Leshamta adds, ‘It is that kind of don’t-care attitude amongst stakeholders and the general public in Kenya that has lowered our international rating on international catwalks. Even the girls we send to international competitions cannot do well as expected because of the lack of support from Kenyans. It is only Mrs Terry Mungai who normally accompanies the Kenyan contestants to Miss World and other international contests, yet the girls need votes from all over the world if they are to do well. Our girls cannot even get votes from Kenyans. Who else will ever vote for them?”
In order to correct the situation, Leshamta says Ashleys has sought the possibility of having Miss World contest hosted in Kenya but the question of economic viability has always been raised.
“We are always asked who our partners are and how much money they are willing to put in the event. A clearly defined role of the Kenya government and the structures it has put in place, the infrastructure available, and the ones that will raised for the purpose of the event in terms of venues, publicity, transport and hospitality, accommodation, security, audience base and relevant service sector are other issues that are often posed,” Leshamta says.
‘What Kenyans are taking too long to appreciate is the fact that Miss World contest, for instance, has worldwide audience close to the Olympic Games and Soccer World Cup.”
Although the rural girl is still widely left out in the search for Kenya’s beauty queens, Ashleys passes the buck to potential donors, marketers and advertising agencies that are unwilling to go out of their way to support extensive search from the village level, leaving beauty contests to be an urban affair with Nairobi taking the centre stage.
“Kenya has a big market that could sustain beauty pageantry. We have uncountable products and services that could be publicised using models. The government and the private sector should see avenues such as ‘Reach for the Stars’ as a platform for creating employment for the youth. Around the world beauty pageantry and modeling are some of the best paying careers,’ Terry Mungai, Ashleys Academy director, opines.
Apart from helping publicise Ashleys Hair and Beauty Academy and Ashleys Salon and Executive Barber Shop, the organisers say they are yet to reap substantial benefits from running beauty pageants in Kenya.
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‘We rely on the Director’s personal resources and Academy’s support in running these shows
|Esleen Muniale, Miss Teens 2006 First Runners Up
and mostly it falls below the budget. That is why we have been hosting contests for four crowns in one night over the last two years,” says Leshamta.
Could this partly explain why Mungai turned to the church, which enjoys legions of captive audience, to drum up support for her agenda?
“The vision of Ashleys is to make beauty pageantry a celebration of true Kenyan beauty in a positive, respectable way. We want the people to acknowledge that beauty is a gift from God which should be used as a tool to reach out to others, and market our cultures and our beautiful country,” says Mungai. “The church has acknowledged this fact and embraced ‘Reach for the Stars’, with Jubilee Christian Church encouraging their flock to support and even participate in the event.”
Contrary to the conventional belief that beauty shows contradict religious ideals, Ashleys say human exhibitions can be used to inculcate strong religious morals among contestants.
“A professional pageant contestant,” Leshamta says, “has to be patient, humble, sociable, strong-hearted, and go by the moral values as stipulated in religious books. That is why they are role models.”
She however adds that certain models and beauty queens have in the past not lived up to this ideal, often finding themselves in scandalous situations. She explains this was, because the girls did not undergo thorough training in beauty pageantry, modeling, and fashion show, and the fact that most girls allow ‘celebrity’ to get the better of them. Ashleys, she says, is laying emphasis on training so that real and admirable role models are churned out.
All the four women who were crowned in August 2006 concur with their chaperon, attributing their success to God.
“You only indulge in scandals if you did not come to beauty pageantry with a clear vision and lack goals in life,” says 21 year-old Catherine Wangari Wainaina, the 2006 Miss Global International. A second-year student of community development at Daystar University, Wainaina says she would like to work for United Nations and reach the level of Dr Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka, the Tanzanian Director-General of the UN Office in Nairobi who also doubles up as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT.
‘You have to have an impeccable reputation for people to trust you with their children and personal matters. You should use the crown to consolidate your ambition and bring it closer,” says Khadijah Shamilah Kiptoo, Miss World Kenya 2006 who says she plans to be a psychologist specialising in children’s issues.
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Miss Tourism Kenya 2006 Replaced
Meanwhile, adds OGOVA ONDEGO, Sheila Kwamboka Ominde has been dethroned barely two months after being crowned Miss Tourism Kenya for what Ashleys director, Terry Mungai, describes as ‘gross misconduct’.
Asked to explain what ‘gross misconduct’ constitutes, Mungai says “We will not divulge anything because we do not intend to embarrass any one but to inform the public that Sheila Ominde is not working with us.”
She says Carol Githaiga, first runner up in he Miss tourism Kenya contest, has replaced Ominde.
In a four-page letter terminating Ominde’s reign and signed by Mungai on October 16, 2006, Ashleys says Ominde has contravened section two of the contract. Specifically, the letter says Ominde has “been outright rude and abusive”, she has “been ill-mannered when visiting the office, you change clothes and shoes and leave them for your chaperon to clean after you, put your feet up on chairs making everybody in the office uncomfortable around you.”
Consequently, the letter states, “We feel that you don’t have the image and character required of a beauty queen and regret that we cannot continue with this contract.’
But Ominde will not go down without a fight. She says she is out to redeem her name. “My character will speak for itself. I won’t go to court because the termination of the Ashleys contract has not affected me adversely. But it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I am getting many jobs now than I was doing as Miss Tourism Kenya when no one wanted to work with me because of my association with Ashleys.”
Ominde describes the action of Ashleys as ‘very malicious’ and their accusations as ‘frivolous’.
Mungai, she says, “doesn’t like people who are focused, assertive and aggressive.”
Describing Ashleys as “a house of disillusionment” that only benefits its owners and not the girls they “use as slaves to bring them money”, Ominde says she spent more than Sh250000 (about US$3473) on African attire she intended to
use as Miss Tourism Kenya in South Africa in December 2006.
|Sheila Kwamboka Ominde, Miss Tourism Kenya 2006 who was dethroned within two months of her reign
“Initially it was my predecessor who was to have gone to South Africa but she was stripped of the title. I was to go in her place but I have now been replaced. I wonder if after a few squabbles with Ashleys my successor will not be replaced as well. The two girls who preceded me did not serve their full terms.”
Asked why she spent so much money on clothes, Ominde says, ‘Mrs Mungai said that the dressing of beauty queens was not her business. Yet she expects us to portray the image of beauty queens; the outfits that are available have already been over-used by former beauty queens. After being crowned it is up to you to dress yourself. She expects you to dress in African attire. I had to make my own clothes considering that the clothes that were there were short on me. One outfit cost me Sh10,000 (US$139) on average.”
Ominde says “I was abused and misused. Before the pageant she treats you like a queen but after the pageant she treats you like trash. I would advise girls interested in beauty pageantry to register with a recognised agency that values them. Mrs Mungai should give up the beauty pageant franchise in Kenya because she is running the beauty industry to the ground. She sure is going down but she should not take along the beauty industry with her.”