In Summary
  • Mistake. Kiwanda should have known that faced with such temptations even the bravest of men shouldn’t try standing and fighting. He should have made a few complimentary remarks and fled.

It is the Budget season and guess what? We’re embroiled in an impassioned debate about the female form and whether pageants that exclude slim women are better than those that exclude ample bodied ones. The other debate is whether the ample bodied women in the Pearl of Africa should be promoted by the government as a tourist attraction. The first issue is a non-debate. It is the second which has become a hot potato. Whichever point of view you take, the fact is that this debate shows how much social power women have! The power is all the more intriguing because it is shrouded in mystery. No lesser an authority than the famed physicist, Stephen Hawking when asked what mystery he found most intriguing, answered “Women!”

The man at the centre of the storm is Godfrey Kiwanda, the junior minister for Tourism who first came into the limelight as the chief promoter of the street food we know as Rolex. He hoisted this lowly food up and gave it international recognition. The media immediately crowned him the “Rolex Minister”. Little did the press know that his instincts for creative promotion of Tourism would transcend the palate and explore other fields and appetites.

A few days ago the minister was invaded by some women promoting a beauty pageant with a different appeal. An elated Kiwanda was overcome with enthusiasm as he extolled the tourism potential of plus-size women. “We have naturally endowed nice looking women that are amazing to look at. Why don’t we use these people as a strategy to promote our tourism industry?” the minister asked rhetorically.

To be fair, the Miss Curvy Uganda is not the minister’s brainchild. The organisers of the pageant simply managed to get the minister to endorse their event. And he did so with gusto. Perhaps too much gusto. The chief organiser of the event, Ms Ann Mungoma, spelled out her mission statement: “Miss Curvy is an event that will bring out the endowment of the real African woman. It is an exceptional event that will see young ladies showcase their beautiful curves and intellect.”

The minister was rightly impressed. And it was not just about the words being spoken. The women of ample proportions were in full force. The minister was all alone. Surrounded. It was Waterloo for his better judgement. He should have known that faced with such temptations even the bravest of men shouldn’t try standing and fighting. He should have made a few complimentary remarks and fled. Instead, he stayed and ended up saying things he should have only thought about at the very least. He blew his fuse with his hyperbolic praise of plump full figured women.
The minister’s attempt to link the pageant to his portfolio backfired. This was partly due to his choice of words and the examples he gave of women from particular regions of Uganda. Social media also fanned the flames of outrage. The women who brought the idea to Kiwanda have been spared the attacks. It is Kiwanda facing the music.

Joseph Sabiti of NBS TV took to Twitter in defence of the pageant. “If you can accept slim beauty queens to market your tourism and celebrate the contests like Miss Uganda and Miss World, you certainly can accept Miss Curvy too. Let’s cut the hypocrisy,” he tweeted. One Sabrina tweeted, “I speak as a curvy woman. I am not offended. Skinny women are just pressed that the attention is not on them as always.”

One Primrose Murungi quickly launched an online petition calling for cancellation of the pageant and demanding a public apology from Kiwanda. Former Leader of Opposition in Parliament Winnie Kiiza also joined the chorus condemning the objectification and dehumanisation of women. Kiwanda has so far stood firm in defence of his endorsement of the pageant. But with activists up in arms denouncing him as a chauvinist promoting the stereotype of women as objects (of sex), one wonders how much more heat he can take.