In 1999 the second M-Net Face of Africa beauty pageant made history, when for the first time in African television an event was broadcast live to 42 countries Africa. Since then African beauty pageants have sprung up everywhere, both on the continent and in the Diaspora. A Google search yields numerous results for various versions of Miss Africa beauty contests and in Minnesota alone there are usually 5 such pageants from various communities in a year, the most notable being the Miss Liberia Minnesota Pageant.
On June 23rd at Central High School, Minnesota held preliminaries for what may be considered the most ambitious beauty pageant yet – The Miss Africa USA pageant. As with all beauty pageants, African beauty pageants have not escaped criticism from those who feel that such events exploit women and water down the definition of real beauty. Despite obvious shortcomings in the event organization, watching the seven ambitious ladies carry themselves with such dignity and intelligently speak about their dreams and hopes for Africa would have made any African proud. “I dream of an Africa that will be peaceful, I dream of an Africa that will be stable politically, socially and economically,” said Fri a nursing student from Cameroun. “My ultimate goal is to go back home and spread peace and understanding,” said 18-year old Tina from Sudan.
The contestants whose ages ranged from 18 to 24 represented the peoples of Cameroun, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Somalia and Sudan and came from various cities across Minnesota. With the exception of Caroline from Kenya, none of the other ladies had any experience in modeling. Some of the contestants admitted to being a bit intimidated by the event, but with encouragement from their families signed up for the pageant. “I heard about this event from my uncle who encouraged me to participate,” said the youngest participant, Rogiyo from Somalia.
The talent section provided a great range of performances. Fri and Stella from Tanzania got serious with poetry dedicated to the continent. Rogiyo performed a Somali dance, Tina a dancehall piece and Korma from Nigeria energized the crowd with some smooth coupé decalé dance moves. Caroline beautiful vocals rang through the auditorium as she sang “Stand Up for Love” and Yvonne also from Cameroun had the audience laughing with her solo skit on why not to get pregnant before marriage.
One special last minute addition to the show was a fashion show by 19 year old designer Namal Both. Namal was originally among the line up for the pageant, but dropped out on discovering that she was pregnant. She did however model one of her outfits along with two friends. Caroline, the Kenyan contestant also modeled one of her outfits for evening wear. Though only allowed to show three outfits, she captured the attention of the crowd who were greatly amazed at her talent. Exclamations like “Wow!” and “Oh my God!” rang through the crowd along with cheering from others. Namal, who is Sudanese was born in the Gambela region of Ethiopia and came to America alone at the tender age of seven. Life has not been a bag of candy for her and she ended up in foster care when she was 14. Her clothes are a fusion of African traditional designs and contemporary fashion. She currently attended Minneapolis Community Technical College, where she studies apparel technology and wants to attend a fashion school in New York thereafter.
Also keeping the audience entertained were local artists Amanim dancers, RnB musicians V-Style and Crew and Somali sensation Ziigad. Towards the end of the night Makossa Super Star Emile Kangue sang a couple of ballads to calm everyone’s nerves as they awaited the results.
The three judges who are well known in the African community were; Mr. Jackson K. George Jr, vice-president of the Organization of Liberians in Minnesota, Mrs. Melissa Nambangi, president of Minnesota African Women’s Association and Ms. Angela Nkem Asiegbu-Emelife, a member of Umunne Cultural Association.
With so much great talent, it was difficult for judges to choose some as winners while leaving others out. Nonetheless in the end it was Fri from Cameroun who took home the Miss Spokes model award because of her eloquence, Stella from Tanzania nabbed Miss Culture on account of her sensitivity, the enthusiastic Korma from Nigeria got Miss Performance and Tina from Sudan cinched Miss Supermodel because of her look.
The Minnesota preliminaries may be over, but the race for the title of Miss Africa USA is still going with preliminaries not done in other states. Founder Lady Kate Njeuma informed everyone that the four awardees would be informed on July 15th, after the conclusion of all the preliminaries in other states who will be attending the final pageant in Atlanta in November. For updated information on the national pageant, visit their website here.