Winning Miss Uganda blew me away – Karema

Karema says her biggest inspiration to run for Miss Uganda was Quinn Abenakyo. PHOTO/COURTESY

What you need to know:

Hannah Karema Tumukunde has been trending on social media, mostly because she was crowned Miss Uganda 2023/24. In her Senior Six vacation, the new beauty queen says she hopes to use her time at the helm to advocate against forced early marriages.

Hannah Karema Tumukunde took home the Miss Uganda 2023/24 crown two weekends ago, replacing Elizabeth Bagaya.

 After waiting in the queue of other journalists who were taking turns to interview her at Sheraton Kampala Hotel following her victory, I finally had a one-on-one with her.

Dressed in a gold dress with her sash running across from her shoulder to the waist, Karema looked everything queenly. Confident, simple and articulate, with a touch of humour, is how I would describe the 20-year-old who kept smiling as she started to reveal details of her journey to the highly-coveted crown.

“The announcement that I was Miss Uganda blew me away,” she says, adding that for a minute she could not believe it until she was hugged and congratulated by her runners-up.

 Inspiration to contest

Unlike many beauty pageant contestants who grow up anticipating the crown and taking part in smaller pageants in preparation, for Karema, her first interest in the crown came in December 2018, the day President Museveni met with former Miss Uganda, Quiin Abenakyo at State House-Entebbe shortly after her return from the Miss World finale 2018 in China, where she was crowned Miss World Africa.

She reminisces that while watching the news with her father, Godfrey Karema, she was inspired by Abenakyo who had not only made the country proud, but her family too.

She promised her father that one day, she would be the Miss Uganda meeting the President and while at it, she would take him along.

After the incident, she started researching about Abenakyo, who she later discovered hailed from a humble background just as hers, which made her believe that she too, stood a chance and the pageant was something she could give a shot. The big question, however, remained when and how?

 Since she was still younger and in secondary school then, it meant she was not eligible to contest. The minimum entry age for Miss Uganda is 18 years. Karema then decided to equip herself with basics of what it meant becoming a beauty queen and part of those was modelling, a craft she chose to master under the Joram Muzira Model Management, a team that groomed her.

In addition, she equipped herself with knowledge in social life and the community, knowing that the pageant called for informative and intelligent girls on top of beauty.

Joining Miss Uganda

When Karema sat her Senior Six final examinations last year, she knew her chance to run in the pageant had neared and true to that, when the call for participants was put out, she auditioned.

Hailing from Nakaseke District, in the Buganda County of Bulemeezi, Karema went through the auditions and was one of the contestants chosen to represent the central region out of the 21 beauty queens selected after a month of regional tours in the land.

According to her, the reality kicked in when they moved into the boot camp, an experience she terms very tasking and challenging but also a worthwhile adventure.

“The bootcamp challenged me but it was also quite an experience. We were trained on life skills and learnt many other qualities of what it takes to be a queen,” she recounts.

She adds that the camp made her better at communication and self-presentation as well as relating more with fellow contestants, whom she kept referring to as ‘sister queens’ during our conversation.

She recounts the release of the Senior Six final examinations as another highlight for her at the boot camp. Having passed her examinations, it was a light moment that further encouraged and strengthened her when the going got tough.

Unlike the past editions of the competitions, this time round everything behind the scenes was showcased as a reality TV show.

 Karema says the cameras everywhere almost called for perfection because the world was watching to see what “we go through to be crowned”, something she says made her fight hard to keep grounded and interactive all through because she did not want to disappoint her supporters, family and friends.

Eyes on the crown

 Rhyming under the theme ‘Beauty beyond looks’, this year’s Miss Uganda contest, just like the others, involved periodic evictions, confession cameras, audience interactivity and judges, among other elements, all before the crowning ceremony.

For Karema, every day that passed seemed to throw her off the crown, even when she knew she was doing well at all levels.

On why it was so, she explains that all the ‘sister queens’ were so good at what they did at every level that each of the others kept thinking another was better.

She described their entire journey to the finale night a hard one that must have challenged judges a lot because all the girls were good at the personality, beauty, articulation, quality, substance, creativity and presentation.

On finally winning, Karema says she had no secret whatsoever but she simply did her best. “I simply knew I had my family and friends’ support, something that kept my spirits high. I had done my best and the rest was to God,” she says.

 On the finale day, she kept her expectations low just like she had previously, taking them day-by-day. This kept her afloat during the competition.

She reminisces not believing her ears when they announced her winner.

“That night will forever hold beautiful and sweet memories in my life,” she says.

Her project

Just like it is norm for the winners of the pageant to spearhead a cause, Karema says during her reign, she will use her influence to advocate against forced early marriages in addition to other projects the Miss Uganda Foundation will allocate her.

“This project is dear to me because where I hail from is a deep village and girls are married off as early as 13,” she says.

She adds that what hurts her is that these girls do not know that it is wrong for them to be married off at that age.

She cites failure to access education as key in fuelling the problem because young girls end up getting pregnant and parents simply force them into these marriages.

She applauds her father for looking after her and her siblings because in their locality, it is him who has managed to educate all his daughters with protection and guidance.

She intends to spend her entire reign as Miss Uganda serving the community and representing Uganda the best way she can for she believes the crown is meant to benefit the nation and not oneself.

 Life after the crown

Karema says she kick-started her title roles the night she was crowned and the foundation is swiftly initiating her and other winners into their roles and new positions.

In the first week of her reign, it was a rollercoaster of things. From the attention, to the many interviews and media appearances, to the sweet love and congratulatory messages among many other things, she is taking it all in with gratitude.

Moving forward, she is delighted to represent Uganda at the Miss World 2023 in Dubai later this year. She is hopeful that with support from fellow Ugandans, she will soar even higher from where her inspiration Quinn Abenakyo stopped at the Miss World.

She looks forward to kick-starting her project of advocating for an end to forced early marriages among young girls in Uganda.

Karema is also hoping to join university later this year to further her education. She wants to join Makerere University to pursue a degree in either Law or Journalism.

On how she wants to be remembered when her tenure as Miss Uganda ends, Karema says her interest is in touching many souls. “I know making an impact is not an easy thing, but I am ready for it. After my reign, I want to have people whose lives will be touched by my works, even if it is one. That is enough for me,” she says.

Elizabeth Bagaya was the first runner up in the Miss Uganda 2019/2020 pageant. Her chance to the crown came in 2021 when she replaced Oliver Nakakande who was caught up pursuing her studies abroad.


Karema attended Kinoni Primary School and African Outreach Academy Primary School for her primary education before joining Midland High School Kawempe and Seroma Christian High School.

 At her Senior Six, she scored 15 points in History, Luganda, Divinity and Computer Science.