On the night of October 12, 2018, the then 22-year-old Margaret Kankwazi was crowned winner of the 2018/2019 Miss Tourism beauty pageant at Serena Hotel Kampala.
The glamour-packed event held under the theme, ‘Let the Pearl Shine,’ saw Ms Kankwazi outshine other participants, but the glow of triumph on her face soon dimmed as her expectations were shattered and the land promised never came.
Days after she won, Ms Kankwazi started engaging Mr Allan Kanyike Bwete, the chief executive officer of Miss Tourism Uganda, over the prizes, but he reportedly kept sidestepping the issue for months.
“Following the crowning night, I was told I had won land as earlier communicated by the organisers and after that night, I was told to follow up the land issue with Mr Kanyike, which I promptly did,” Ms Kankwazi explains.
Running in circles
Ms Kankwazi says for months, she engaged the organisers, but they kept skirting the issue.
“They kept me running in circles and whenever I held interviews with the media, I was asked never to talk about the prize issue because it would get the pageant’s image tarnished,” she explains.
She says the land was reportedly acquired in Kisoro District in Kigezi sub-region, where she hails from.
Ms Kakwanzi says she was approached later by Mr Kanyike, who told her that her prize was not achievable and advised that she opts for a car instead.
“He told me the land wasn’t achievable, but that I should settle for a car instead and later he started becoming rude whenever I demanded the car,” Ms Kankwanzi adds.
She says the organisers stopped her from raising her concerns to Miss Tourism pageant patron, Ms Marianne Naava. “They told me never to involve the patron, arguing that she was pregnant at the time and would be stressed,” she adds.
Miss Tourism management responds
The public relations manager of Miss Tourism Uganda, Ms Rhonah Kisakye, says the pageant has always been legitimate and all their promises of prizes have been honoured.
She acknowledges that Ms Kankwanzi won land in her region and the land titles were given to her days after the pageant.
“Whoever wins takes the prize and for Ms Kankwanzi, who won land, we gave it to her, much as I can’t recall the plot number, but she did get her prize just as did the others.”
Much as Ms Kisakye says the current Miss Tourism, Ms Phionah Bridget Kyeeru, also won land on Plot 32 in Wakiso, Ms Kyeeru declined to confirm the details of the land and referred Sunday Monitor back to Ms Kisakye.
But a source within Miss Tourism Uganda reveals that there are many cases of pageant winners fighting to claim their prizes but are gagged and frustrated from speaking to the media until their reign ends.
“At one moment, there was a winner who almost dragged the pageant management to court over a car,” the source who preferred anonymity in order to speak freely, says.
In an extended telephone conversation, Mr Kanyike acknowledges that one of the winners received her prize four months into the reign of a successor queen.
“We negotiated with her well and she got her prize after,” he says.
Initially, Mr Kanyike, in a WhatsApp chat, had asserted that no single individual had ever missed out on a prize.
“We have always provided the promised rewards to national Queens and we have never promised things that were never given and that makes us fair,” Mr Kanyike wrote.
But three days later, when Sunday Monitor contacted him to crosscheck the facts, Mr Kanyike said Ms Kankwanzi’s land was announced by someone in the pageant management without consent and they had to go with it and deliver.
“The prize was announced by someone on the D- Day but never did the organisation commission the award, nevertheless, we pledged to deliver although Ms Kankwanzi was never cooperative,” he adds.
Mr Kanyike later referred Sunday Monitor to a couple of journalists who have been covering the pageant to confirm that the pageant has been living up to its promises.
He also says the car meant for Ms Kankwanzi was to be delivered by Radiant Cosmetics Company, who were part of the sponsorship, but they never did.
But he again blames Ms Kankwanzi for not being appreciative.
“She isn’t appreciative, we did a lot for her and we raised Shs40m for her to participate in the Miss Tourism pageant at international level,” Mr Kanyike claims.
When asked if he was still willing to release the prize, he says: “...even people were telling us that Ms Kankwanzi was never performing her duties. She should avail the documents she signed with us.”
Our efforts to get views of other former participants of the pageant were fruitless, with most declining to comment on the issue.
But Mr Kanyike insists Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) has not been much helpful in promoting Miss Tourism Uganda initiative.
Recently, Mr Kanyike revealed that Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga had to step in to finance Ms Kyeru’s travel to Malaysia for Miss Tourism International.
UTB speaks out
Ms Lilly Ajerova, the executive director of Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), distanced UTB from Miss Tourism Uganda, saying it is a private business. “Miss Tourism Beauty Pageant is a private initiative organised by Miss Tourism Foundation, which is a private entity and as UTB, we come in as sponsors,” Ms Ajerova says.
However, she adds that the girls have always run to UTB for sponsorship and help but they have always been advised to transact with Miss Tourism Uganda as an organisation.
Ms Ajerova says UTB finds Miss Tourism Uganda a great initiative since it attracts the young people into the tourism sector, and that they are pushing to get a serious partnership that can diligently manage such glitches that can tarnish the image of UTB.
“We had a meeting with the board of Miss Tourism Uganda and we want to streamline the terms of our sponsorship and task them to use the money we put in to good use” she reveals.