QUEENS NO MORE: They come, they conquer and grace us with all this royalty and charity works, but before we know it, their one-year reign is over and they have to hand over the crown to the next queen. After carrying around a crown with purpose, one cannot help but wonder how it feels for a Miss Uganda queen to step back into normal life. ESTHER OLUKA speaks to former Miss Uganda title bearers to find out life after the crown.
Leah Kagasa, 2016-2018
One of the most memorable aspects of Kagasa’s reign was that she served for two consecutive years, something that had never happened before in the pageant. Well, things turned out this way because in 2017, the pageant did not happen. At the time, the organising team was restrategising, hence, feeling no need to hold the pageant. Kagasa’s two-year term came to an end in 2018.
“I felt some relief that all the attention was now focused on someone new,” she says, adding: “I was excited to get into the background and support the new queen.”
Kagasa says she now has more freedom to undertake projects close to heart.
Currently, she works as an advocate for children rights under the Miss Uganda Foundation. In addition, she is part of the “Live your dream” campaign, a partnership with the foundation and the United Nations Population Fund, where former contestants visit secondary schools in West Nile and Karamoja region to talk about issues that affect students. These issues include teenage pregnancies, sexual reproductive health, early marriages, among others. Besides taking part in different projects, Kagasa, who holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing from Makerere University, works as a model and motivational speaker. She is currently single.
Leah Kalanguka, 2014/15
Upon her crowing in 2014, there was uproar from the public who concluded that she was not suitable enough to hold the title. The hatred for this girl was plastered all over social media with many critics saying she was not attractive enough. But the amazing thing about Kalanguka was that she did not focus her energy on the haters. Rather, she focused on diligently serving her reign with grace and poise while growing her mushrooms – she was actively into farming.
When her reign ended in 2015, Kalanguka, who graduated with a first-class degree in Computer Engineering from Makerere University, says she went on to pursue other projects of interest, including fashion.
“I am passionate about the fashion industry. Not only do I want to build a brand but also create employment opportunities for young people,” she says.
Despite the criticism that engulfed her reign, Kalanguka does not regret participating in the pageant. In fact, she is grateful to the Miss Uganda platform for giving her an opportunity to reach out to young people.
“I miss going to schools to talk to youngsters on life’s different aspects including the importance of attaining an education,” she says. Kalanguka hopes to start a family in the near future.
Quiin Abenakyo, 2018/19
The 23-year-old is by far the most celebrated former queen. Not only because she is the most recent, but also because of her incredible performance at the 2018 Miss World finale in China, where she was crowned Miss World Africa 2018/2019. It is no wonder that a section of Ugandans were a little sad when her reign ended on July 26. In fact, some people wished that she be given another kisanja (term). Those wishes were not granted. On how she is finding life after her reign, Abenakyo says, “All is well. The transition back to my normal life is going smoothly.”
As much as she may not be in the limelight today, Abenakyo says she has already set up the Quiin Abenakyo Foundation where she continues to tackle issues affecting girls, including teenage pregnancies and underage marriage. The advocacy is being done alongside the Miss Uganda Foundation, a franchise she has created a lifetime partnership with.
Abenakyo says the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga, and the government, continue to support her projects. For now, the Business Computing graduate continues to reign as Miss World Africa until December 2019.
Stella Nantumbwe aka Ellah, 2013/14
In recent interviews, Ellah has come out to say she is currently focusing on being a social entrepreneur aiming at ascending business heights, and, at the same time empowering youth and women. Her goal is to nurture innovation by establishing centres that will equip both youth and women with the necessary skills and knowledge to start sustainable businesses.
In order to work conversely as a social entrepreneur, Ellah has been studying a Master’s of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at HEC Paris. The course aims at meeting the specific needs of current and future leaders in charge of business development or innovation. For now, the former Big Brother Africa housemate continues to juggle her other talents, including acting, beauty pageant training and emceeing.
Phiona Bizzu, 2012/13
Just like Kalanguka, Bizzu’s crowning was also met with a lot of criticism. At the 2012 Miss Uganda finale, a number of people booed Bizzu, and, some walked out on grounds that she was not beautiful enough for the crown. To them, she did not deserve to be called Miss Uganda.
Bizzu later responded to her critics saying there may have been others more beautiful physically, but, the pageant was “beauty with a purpose.” While someone else could have won, she deserved to win the most, as the judges ruled. Despite the criticism, Bizzu diligently served her reign until 2013.
On whether she found it easy to transition back to her normal life after Miss Uganda, Bizzu says: “I found it a bit difficult because I was not that busy as before, so I had to find something to occupy my free time,” she says.
Bizzu says she does not miss the limelight that comes with being Miss Uganda. She is, however, grateful that she got the opportunity to experience the wonderful things that come with the crown. Currently, Bizzu says she is part of the United Nations Population Fund campaign where she works alongside Leah Kagasa and Quinn Abenakyo visiting secondary schools in West Nile and Karamoja region. In addition to this, she says there is a project in the pipeline on skills empowerment, but for now, she has side businesses, including beauty and pageantry consultancy. Bizzu is not married and does not have children yet.
Sylvia Namutebi Alibhai, 2011/2012
Namutebi has kept herself busy in different ways. She put her pageantry experience into use after getting hired as the Miss Uganda Project coordinator, a position she has been holding since 2018. Also, she is the project coordinator for this year’s Abryanz Style and Fashion Awards (ASFAs).
Most notably, she is the director Special Events at Talent Africa, an entertainment company owned by her husband, Aly Alibhai. The couple have a son.
So far, Namutebi says motherhood is her greatest accomplishment. “Being a mother has made my whole life complete. It is a great feeling to share a special bond with a little human being you partly created. There is no better feeling than that,” she says.
Namutebi says the challenging bit about being a working mother is failing to find enough time to spend with her son.
Dorah Mwima Barrak, 2008/2009
Mwima was crowned Miss Uganda back in 2008 at the age of 18. Shortly before her reign ended in 2009, she started running a project called Miss Uganda Cares, Do You?
“It was mainly aimed at ensuring there are a number of incubators available for newborns, mostly preterm babies at different health facilities,” she says.
However, over time, Mwima came to the realisation that Miss Uganda was a title so many women would possess after her, therefore, she set off on a journey of building a legacy by launching the Dorah Mwima Foundation in May 2009. Under the foundation, she extended support to different health centres, including Uganda Cancer Institute, Nsambya hospital, Gwatiro Hospital in Bweyogerere, among others. Then, in the recent years, she also embarked on a project termed MamaPort aimed at giving comfortable and safe transportation to expectant and postnatal mothers. There are also celebrity football matches she organises dubbed, “A celebrity for charity,” where celebrities come together to play football and raise funds to support some of her projects.
Away from her projects, Mwima is a mother of four and is married to Nader Barrak. The couple are raising four children. “Being a wife is a blessing, and becoming a mother is fulfilling. Every day, there is something new to learn, something to talk about, so many milestones to achieve together, though I won’t lie, there are some overwhelming days,” she says.
A former beauty queen with four children, one wonders if Mwima ever feels the pressure to maintain her looks.
“I have always believed one should not lose themselves because of motherhood,” she says. For her, the determination of staying fit and maintaining her body comes naturally.