|By Bobastles Owino Nondi
Published December 10, 2006
|Sheila Kwamboka Ominde adorned
Miss Tourism Kenya 2006, Sheila Kwamboka Ominde, is a born again Christian who struts the catwalk in a bikini and admires Kenyan political opposition leader Raila Amolo Odinga. Ominde is spontaneous, having her hands in virtually everything that crosses her path. A first year student of International Relations at United States International University in Nairobi, Ominde is a premier league side basketball player, Christian music singer who got on the catwalk as a platform from which to enlighten humanity about autism, a cerebral condition her small and only brother suffers from. She tells BOBASTLES OWINO NONDI that she abhors rape, wife inheritance, female genital mutilation, wife-battering and polygyny.
What is it about you that led you to beauty pageantry?
I am a very spontaneous person, jumping into anything that comes my way, especially if it is line with my dreams.
How is cat-walking in line with your dreams?
I am very vocal and assertive when it comes to championing what I believe in. I like being in the limelight doing something for a change. I was feeling looked down upon most of the time when people were not willing to listen to me. And even in instances where they listened, they rarely took me seriously and never implemented my ideas. It is then that I realised that at the centre of focus as a beauty queen someone would listen to me. This is because I want to be an internationally respected diplomat.
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Although only a couple of weeks with the crown, would you say that it is turning out as you had expected?
So far so good! Together with other queens–Miss Kenya, Miss Global International, and Miss Teens–I have managed to visit and share views with the Government Spokesman, Dr. Alfred Mutua. I was invited by the Minister for Youth to be one of the mentors at the Youth Empowerment Summit recently held in Nairobi. I also participate more frequently in fashion shows, especially those by African Heritage, one of the leading fashion houses in Kenya.
|Ominde as Miss Tourism Kenya 2006
Any disappointments thus far?
Clad in our various beauty attires and wearing our crowns, we were rudely pushed away back by president’s security personnel at Kenyatta International Conference Centre during the Youth Empowerment despite having been invited by the minister for youth affairs. We stood in the queue for a long time before someone intervened.
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What are your expectations from Kenyans?
Appreciation and support! Because I’ve the crown I’ll be representing Kenya at international beauty contests and international functions inside and outside the country, marketing the country, and I’m expected as Miss Tourism to be the chief receptionist for all Kenyan guests : political, social and economic, unless they are private guests. After this I should show them the beauty and greatness of all corners of our country. You can imagine how disastrous it can be if the locals are not acknowledging you and supporting you in dispensing these duties. Because Miss Tourism from the start was a government initiative to boost tourism in the country, it (government) should continue providing the infrastructural support needed by the organisers and the reigning queen to keep the star shining.
The tourism industry in Kenya sometimes appears overcrowded in terms of marketing. What new ideas are you bringing on?
I don’t believe my role would be to re-invent the wheel. Mine is just to spin it further and faster where there is need. And I already see several areas with dire need. For instance, most stakeholders are busy marketing tourism outside Kenya without much regard for the tourist sites that the visitors are expected to come to. Prominence has been given to Kenyan coastline over the decades and yet so many countries around the world have beaches. That is why it is easy to find that tourists are migrating to other countries.
Kenya Wildlife Services has done well to preserve our wildlife which might force people to come to Kenya because most of our flora and fauna is unique. But this simply means that only certain areas will benefit from tourism. The sad thing about wildlife is that we are currently allowing our classical animals to be taken away to other countries meaning that we are giving out the seed, the birth right. What needs to be answered is what special things we get in return. Sooner than later wildlife will no longer be a treasure for Kenya because the same species will be available abroad, in the home countries of the tourists we are targeting!
We need to open up Kenya so that tourists can have reasons to visit Central, Nyanza, Western, North Eastern and all the provinces. We have diverse cultures and not just the Maasai one that is often stressed.
And in opening up Kenya there must be clear ways of collecting the revenue generated and using it to uplift the lives of local people, not bringing it to Nairobi to develop the already developed areas. We must ask, when a tourist walks in my village and takes pictures of women toiling on shamba or naked children playing, who benefits from that?
What would you say about African women?
African women are a strange breed! We have never had a common front even on matters affecting all of us. In Africa, the woman is her own worst enemy. How else would one explain why some women would condemn others when they take to streets or to certain forums to protest against rape, child molestation, wife battering, wife inheritance, polygamy, and female genital mutilation or in support of affirmative action?
The African woman needs to be empowered economically, socially, academically and intellectually. That is another campaign that I would like to passionately engage in during and after my reign.
There are concerns with African social commentators and scholars that western cultures are fast phasing out African cultural values. What is your take on that?
Most Africans are not true to themselves. But again you cannot blame us especially young people because that is what we live, learn in school, worship in churches, watch on television, wear, listen to on radio and talk on the streets. At this moment we can say that ours are hybrid cultures because we are a hybrid crop.
But we can still be true to ourselves and appreciate the fact that we will never be anything else but Africans. Take music, for instance! We can do African music or Afro-fusion in hip hop or any other genre without aping the Americans and still address current touchy issues that would sell the music. West Africa and South Africa have stuck to the traditional beats. In East Africa Tanzania takes the crown because even the young crop of musicians has come up with something Tanzanian.
What is Sheila Kwamboka Ominde when she is not Miss Tourism?
Shiela is a 21 year-old born-again daughter, student, sports person, musician, sister, friend and social worker. I am the second child in our family of three daughters and one son. Our brother is so lovable though suffering from autistic disorder, a condition that has given the dream of one day opening a centre for such people and where their parents and family could get support in Kenya.
I am a first-year International Relations student at United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi. I play basketball at the national league level. I dedicate myself to church where I’ve explored my singing talent and produced a single gospel music.
In between I mentor less privileged children.
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Don’t you find any conflict between beauty pageantry and your faith?
I don’t find any conflict at all. Being born again does not diminish one’s beauty. In any case we are created in God’s image and should be appreciated as such. Even those who have never participated in beauty pageants often get complements. My dad always tells me that I’m pretty and I appreciate it so much.
Where do you see yourself later in life?
I see myself in politics. But I would want to be a truthful politician who is able to help people and change their often miserable status. I admire Raila Amolo Odinga a lot in this regard. I am sure that he has stuck his neck out for Kenyans for better part of his life, until now the political and democratic space is much opened. He is now fighting to level the political playing field for women, and marginalised communities. This is likely to lead to more competitive and constructive politics.
I want to help people. It is a matter of making fishing ponds safe, then teaching people how to fish without drowning.
NB: This interview was done before Ominde was stripped of her crown and replaced by Carol Githaiga barely two months after being crowned for what was described as “gross misconduct”.