June 29, 2012
For the past 18 years, the Miss Tanzania contest has promoted Tanzanian culture, tourism and foreign investment, and given young girls new opportunities, says organiser Hashim Lundenga.
Lundenga founded the Lino International Agency, the organisation behind the pageant, in 1993 and revived the contest in 1994, after it had been banned for 26 years.
Lundenga sat down with Sabahi to talk about how he started the pageant and how it has changed Tanzania's image in the world.
Sabahi: Tell us about the Miss Tanzania pageant.
Hashim Lundenga: The history is a bit long. The beauty contests were prohibited in 1968 under the one-party system. The ruling Tanganyika African National Union party's Youth League suspended the contest that year on the pretext that it was eroding Tanzanian culture, especially the dress code.
In 1994, the government liberalised trade. It was in that year when casinos, nightclubs and the like were allowed as legal businesses.
Sabahi: What motivated you to start a beauty contest in Tanzania?
Lundenga : In 1993, Mirian Ikoa, a Tanzanian, participated and won the Miss Sateen beauty contest in Kenya. It was highly publicised and when I saw it, I said to myself that this was an opportunity to do the same in Tanzania. I thought that if we could have a Tanzanian win in Kenya, why not organise [a contest] in Tanzania?
I went to the Ministry of Education and Culture to float my idea, and Baya Senkemwa, the director for culture at the time, told me it was not prohibited by the constitution. However, she said it had not been permitted because of indecent dressing -- beauty contest attire looked like nakedness.
Prime Minister Rashid Mfaume Kawawa had [issued a declaration] prohibiting beauty pageants on the grounds that it was a foreign concept, which had little interest to the nation.
Despite these circumstances, I [organised the first event] and contacted the White Sands Hotel manager, who accepted to co-sponsor the event. Minister for Natural Resources and Environment Juma Omary accepted to be the guest of honour. The entrance fee was 50,000 shillings ($32) and tickets sold out.
I was waiting for the police call to stop the event, but to the contrary, many officers attended the event. Since then, no one has stopped the Miss Tanzania contest.
Sabahi: Tell us about the pageant's impact.
Lundenga : Anna Maeda won the first title, and for the first time, Tanzania was represented at Miss World. It was our first time to participate at that level, so she did not perform well. She was not well prepared, but she received adequate exposure.
In 1995, when Emil Adolf won the Miss Tanzania title, it had a unique impact. Miss World Africa was held in South Africa. When contestants visited President Nelson Mandela, he told Miss Tanzania, "I know [Tanzanian President] Mwalimu Nyerere … give him my regards, but since you are approaching the first multiparty general elections, please maintain the hard-earned peace and security in Tanzania."
President Mandela's words about Tanzania were highly publicised in South Africa and the world at large. Remember, South Africa was coming out of apartheid. People had money, but did not know where to invest it. After President Mandela's comment, investors from South Africa started to flock to Tanzania.
Sabahi: Did Tanzania attract investors only from South Africa?
Lundenga : No. After Mandela's statement, a number of visitors came in from the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Russia sent a TV crew that shot Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro Mountain, Lake Victoria and other tourist attractions. For the first time in 1995, Tanzania received 200 tourists from Russia as a group. That was a big achievement brought about by Miss Tanzania.
Our peak came in 2005, when Nancy Summary won Miss World Africa. This publicised Tanzania at the highest level. At the time, Tanzania was ranked among the top 10 safest tourist destinations in the world. Tanzania Investment Centre commended our organisation and said many investors were coming after learning about Tanzania through the Miss World contest. The contestants are given time to express who are they and where they come from; it is a special opportunity to promote the country.
Sabahi: How has the pageant helped women?
Lundenga : Most women who participate in the Miss Tanzania beauty contest have the opportunity to interact with high-level decision makers [such as government officials and corporate managers for multinational corporations] and to fundraise for the underprivileged. Thus, they become community servants.
Some secure top-class employment, others become models… generally, participants get involved in jobs that are artistic in nature. Other charitable activities they get involved in include HIV/AIDS campaigns, poverty eradication, nutrition, fighting against drug abuse or for gender equality, environmental conservation and health.
Sabahi: What have been some of the challenges in organising the pageant?
Lundenga : It has never been easy. The biggest challenge is getting sponsors. It is costly to organise the contests and sponsors ask for value out of the event. Thanks to the potential publicity accompanying the event, we attract big companies like Redds Tanzania, Vodacom, the Tanzania National Parks Authority and others.
The other challenge is the perception that contestants are harassed sexually; that is not happening. We have world-class judges who give credits only to the deserving.
I want to tell all who are sceptical about the pageant that it is an opportunity not only to market businesses and promote the nation at an international level, but also to give women a chance to excel.
Sabahi: Who won Miss Tanzania in 2012?
Lundenga : Lisa Jensen won the contest and is representing the country at Miss World in China next month. Again, this is the next opportunity for the world to learn about Tanzania.
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