END OF AN ERA: Today, July 26, Quinn Abenakyo, Miss Uganda 2018/19 will hand over the crown to the lucky girl that will win the 2019/20 title. But, before Abenakyo hands over, Esther Oluka caught up with the beauty queen to reflect on her one-year reign. The 23-year-old who is also Miss World Africa 2018/19 title holder shares the highs and lows of carrying the crowns.
Time flies quite fast. It seems like it was only yesterday that Quiin Abenakyo was crowned Miss Uganda 2018/2019. In case you did not know, it’s coming to almost a year now. She was crowned Miss Uganda after beating 21 contestants on Friday, August 10, 2018. A few months later on December 8, 2018 Abenakyo scooped another title of Miss World Africa in Sanya City, China after putting up a remarkable performance at the finale, and getting numerous votes from Ugandans.
Whoever wins the Miss Uganda title serves for a year and after this timeframe, a new queen is ushered to the throne. Today happens to be the day when Abenekyo’s reign as Miss Uganda comes to an end. Another lucky girl will walk away with the title tonight at a the Miss Uganda finale taking place at Sheraton Kampala Hotel. Abenakyo will, however, remain the Miss World Africa 2018/19 until December when she will hand over the title to another continental queen at the Miss World finale.
Reflecting on her early days as Miss Uganda
Last year, after getting crowned as Miss Uganda, Abenakyo says many people did not take her serious.
“People knew there was a Miss Uganda, but, cared less. You would go somewhere and no one bothered. They would just go about their business,” she says, adding, “They never paid attention to this whole pageantry thing.”
But the situation instantly changed after Abenakyo went for the Miss World finale and stunned the world (mostly Ugandans) with an incredible performance that saw her winning the Miss World Africa title. Abenakyo suddenly became famous, and typical of Ugandans, they abruptly took note of her existence. There were congratulatory messages plastered all over different social media platforms commending her for a job well done.
Abenakyo’s life changed in an instant.
From receiving a hero’s welcome at the airport upon her return, dining with President Museveni and the First Lady, to having newly-born babies getting named after her.
“I found it (the fame) overwhelming, too much. It was not something I was ready for,” she says.
Abenakyo managed to slowly adjust because of the training and knowledge she had previously acquired during the Miss Uganda boot camp.
“I remember we (the contestants) were told to expect anything, and, in a scenario where one performed well and attained universal fame, we were given tips on how to behave and conduct ourselves publically. The advice personally helped me deal with my newly acquired status,” she says.
If she had not attained the Miss World Africa title, Abenakyo doubts that she would be as famous as she is today.
Her triumph has undoubtedly changed the way most Ugandans look at pageants, today. They take them more seriously now. For example, there is a certain kind of admiration people give towards the Miss Uganda franchise compared to the previous years. Those days, the pageant was often a subject of ridicule among critics who reasoned that it had lost its pomp and significance. Now, the same ‘haters’ and naysayers are now silent, thanks to Abenakyo’s performance at Miss World.
Notable achievements and moments
The Miss Uganda title gave Abenakyo such a huge platform to highlight issues that are closest to her heart mostly those affecting the girl-child. She has had the opportunity to visit different schools around the country discussing issues such as teenage pregnancies and underage marriage among girls.
“While at these schools, I often encouraged these girls to stay in school and earn an education as a way of investing in themselves and the nation as a whole.” she says.
On some of these school tours, Abenakyo tagged along with the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, who is also passionate about issues concerning the girl child. The duo travelled to schools like Starlight Primary school in Kamuli and Kamuli Girl’s College where the Speaker continuously urged girls to emulate Abenakyo as their role model.
On what kind of relationship she shares with the Speaker, Abenakyo says it is the mother and daughter kind.
“She has been very helpful, especially in supporting my projects regarding the girl-child,” she says.
Just like the Speaker of Parliament, Abenakyo has also met and interacted with President Museveni and First Lady on different occasions.
Her first meeting with the First Family was on the same day she arrived from the Miss World pageant last year.
“I was a bit star-stuck when I met the President. I found the experience overwhelming too. It was something I had never imagined would happen in my life,” she says.
After the first meeting, the President and his wife scheduled another date where they hosted Abenakyo and her family for a dinner.
“Most importantly, during that night, they gave me different pieces of advise like the way any other parents would advise a daughter,” she says.
Just like Abenakyo, meeting the First Family was a notable experience for her parents, Charles Sembera and Alice Kyamulesire too.
At the beginning of the year, critics went up in arms after realising that Abenakyo was allowed to graduate from Makerere University Business School (MUBS) with a Bachelor’s degree of Business Computing, yet, her name was not in the 69th graduation booklet. One person even petitioned the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), the Academic Registrar of Makerere and the National Council for Higher Education to investigate what he termed as the involvement of the vice chancellor in allegedly giving a female student academic favours for selfish reasons.
“I actually knew something like that was bound to happen. I was therefore prepared mentally,” she says.
Was she hurt by the criticism?
“I was perturbed a little bit by the whole fiasco, especially because it was during that time when people were heaping praise on me when they also decided to criticise me. But rather than coming out to personally respond, I chose to keep quiet after realising that some individuals as well as tabloids thrive on both positive and negative news,” she says.
The other reasons why the beauty queen chose to remain silent was because she did not want to give more content for the tabloids to feed on but also believed that the incident would pass. There was no need to make a big deal by discussing it, she says.
Although the tabloids and different social media sites continue to carry false stories on her, Abenakyo says many times she ignores them and carries on with her life because there is hardly any truth to them.
Identifying genuine people
Since she attained global fame, Abenakyo has had the opportunity to rub shoulders with all kinds of individuals from different walks of life. Sometimes during interactions, she has been able, to some extent, tell which people get close because of her status and those who genuinely connect with her because she is Abenakyo.
“Sometimes I am able to tell during the conversations I have with people, I can know who likes me for the titles and those who like me as a person,” she says.
“You need to be sharp and evaluate people. I know that there are individuals who will walk out of my life once my reigns have ended. They would not want to deal with me, and, that’s okay. This is why I am utilising every opportunity while still bearing the crowns because after that, there are people who will not want to know anything regarding Abenakyo.”
On the other side, there are those who genuinely have her best interests at heart. They check on her from time to time, are supportive and most importantly do not sell her personal stories to the media.
Overall, Abenakyo says it is not easy to trust people when one is famous. Besides the opportunists, there are those whose mission is to get close, learn your weaknesses and sell your story to the tabloids. It is for this reason, the beauty queen says that famous people are always making inner judgments on whether to open up to people or not.
Plans after the reign
After handing over the Miss Uganda crown, Abenakyo will continue performing her roles as Miss World Africa until December, this year. This will include embarking on continental tours advocating for her beauty with a purpose campaign, which is on improving the welfare of the girl-child.
The beauty queen has already set up the Quiin Abenakyo Foundation which she will use to continue tackling issues affecting girls including teenage pregnancies and underage marriage. The advocacy will be done alongside the Miss Uganda Foundation, a franchise she has created a lifetime partnership with.
Now that she will have a bit of free time on her hands, the current Miss World Africa says she will utilise this time to probably further her studies by enrolling for a Masters programme. She is not yet decided on the course.
Words of wisdom to the new queen
To the incoming Miss Uganda, Abenakyo wishes her the very best. But also, she advises her not to live up to other people’s expectations.
“Just be yourself,” she advises, adding, “Believe in yourself. I became Miss World Africa, but, you can raise the bar higher and even become Miss World. Anything is possible.”
She concludes by saying, “the Miss Uganda title obviously comes with fame. Remember to not get carried away with your newfound status. If you can, be humble and respectful to everyone. That way, you will be a darling to many Ugandans.”
Titbits: Take 6
A section of people still want you to serve another for another term. They feel you should be given another kisanja (term in office).
I hate to break their hearts. However, I have to give room to another girl to live the same dream.
Who has been the biggest support system during your reign?
My family, mostly, my parents. They had my back on mostly those tough days. They were a source of comfort and encouragement.
Speaking of which, are your parents mesmerised by your global success?
No. They don’t look at me either as Miss Uganda or Miss World Africa. They simply look at me as Abenakyo, their little girl. They are not starstruck like other people outside the family. My parents treat me like my two other siblings.
What have been the most notable pieces of advice your parents have shared with you during the Miss Uganda reign?
My father constantly urged me to remain humble and not let the fame get to my head. I remember him telling me that it’s humility that will still make people like me even after the reign has ended. On the other hand, my mother kept telling me to rely on God, and, not on my own understanding.
Are you in a relationship?
There are some bits about my life that I would want to keep private, and, that includes this aspect of my life.
But you are aware that Basoga are advocating for you to marry the Kyabazinga…
(Bursts into hearty laughter). My tribe mates are probably doing this whole match-making because they have their best interests at heart for me. Some are doing the matchmaking out of excitement, since I am also from Busoga. But I will say this, I respect the Kyabazinga just like how everyone else does.