By KALUNGI KABUYE
It has been going on for the last nine weeks, largely unnoticed by most Ugandans. But now talk around town is all about the first-ever Africa’s Next Top Model reality TV show, and the possibility that a Ugandan born and bred model, Stacy ‘Queen’ Aamito, might actually win it (we shall know this Sunday).
Aamito’s presence in New York is the peak of a journey for Ugandan models that started in 1997. That was when the Face of Africa casting crew first came to Kampala to scout for girls to participate in the first-ever continental model talent search.
Before that, all we had were small beauty pageants that were run like the proverbial Miss Katwe. It is sad that after all these years, many Ugandans still cannot differentiate between beauty queens and fashion models (For the record beauty queens rarely make any real money, while models can become millionaires overnight, as might happen with Aamito).
In 1997 four Ugandan girls were chosen to take part in the Face of Africa contest at Nairobi’s Safari Park Hotel: Pearl Kasujja, Hellen Mugisha, Hadja Bushirah and Sarah Senfuka.
That is when we first had an inkling of what the real fashion world is like. Of the four, Bushirah was chosen to go to the finals, but her Muslim family raised such a mighty ruckus that she was replaced with Mugisha, who did not make it to the Top 5.
In 1998 the world of international fashion finally came to Kampala as the East Africa finals of Face of Africa were held at the Sheraton Hotel. Pamela Nyakairu and Rhona Nabwire were the girls representing Uganda, but unfortunately both did not make the cut.
In 2000 Patricia Namayirira and Jackie Musubika went to Dar-es- Salaam for the East Africa finals, but only Namayirira made it to thecontinental finals. Ugandans were almost all united in arguing that she was the wrong girl to choose, that she was not beautiful and was way too skinny, not typically Ugandan at all.
Namayirira did not make the Top 5 either, but went to on to have a successful modelling career both in South Africa and Europe. She is currently a successful designer based in Cape Town, and boasts of several housing estates. Any former Miss Uganda beat that?
Salmah Nassanga was chosen by the casting crew, but did not make it past boot camp in 2005. In 2006 we thought we had a winner in Munirah Namakula, but she, too, did not make it to the Top 5.
The last Face of Africa to date was in 2008, and we had Lucy Suubi in the fi nals. She was not among the Top 5 either, but she is doing well as a model in Canada.
Which brings us to Aamito. When we started running stories of her prowess in the media, folks were quick to start criticising her. Some wrote that she was obviously not Ugandan, but probably Sudanese (she is actually Acholi). One complained that ‘couldn’t they choose a decent beautiful girl to represent Uganda?’ That one showed just how ignorant Ugandans are about the fashion industry, and may explain why we still treat fashion shows as mainly entertainment.
Aamito has been on the tiny fashion industry in Uganda for a while, and has been on many catwalks in and around town.
Because the Africa Next Top Model crew never came to Kampala, she endured the 12- hour bus ride to Nairobi, and got there just as the auditions were starting. Other girls had planned to travel to Dar-es-Salaam, but that session was cancelled.
This Sunday will show just how far modelling in Uganda has come, from the puzzled but willing group in 1997 to Aamito in New York as one of the last three girls standing.
If she wins, even if she does not, Ugandans should really start taking fashion seriously, and stop comparing models to beauty contestants. If Aamito wins that $50,000 (sh125m), I would like to see the faces of those that were complaining she was not beautiful enough. The joke is on you, dwanzies.
Uganda’s Face of Africa contestants over the years
Not even the Kony rebels could stop Aamito from pursuing her dream
BY STEVEN ODEKE
For a girl who once spent a night in the bushes, scuttling away with her grandmother from the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels to take on the glitzy fashion sphere is testament enough that her nerves and character were long emboldened before we knew her.
Stacy Aamito was in Primary Two when her mother lost her job in Kampala. To cut costs, her mother took her back to her ancestral home in Kitgum district to live with her grandparents for a while. At the time, northern Uganda was under attack by the LRA rebels. Aamito managed to live through the dark nights of running and the stinging rebellion.
That is why we see her take on Africa’s Next Top Model TV reality show competition with such composed character and panache that one judge dubbed her “iconic”. This was after one of the nine challenges that has seen the contestants remain three out of the initial 12 models. Remember, Aamito got into the competition by embarking on a 12-hour bus drive to Nairobi for auditions and, nailed it.
Her agent and model scout, Joram Muzira, says about her attributes: “Her unique high fashion look is her biggest strength in modelling. She is very high fashion and bankable.”
Born in December 3, 1993, Aamito started her path to modelling at the age of 16 with Arapapa Models and has since represented a number of agencies in Uganda. She has worked for a number of renowned designers like Sylvia Owori, Santa Anzo, Gloria Wavamunno, Ras Kasozi and Adele Dejak. Aamito is currently signed to Joram Model Management, another modelling agency in Uganda.
What Aamito has done in modelling is a feat no other Ugandan girl has achieved in any continental search. Her victory last Sunday was the second last challenge in the reality show, which earned her a ticket to New York, where the winner will be unveiled this Sunday.
The challenge was the toughest as the three girls left in the competition were made to pose under water during a photoshoot. Although no girl was eliminated last Sunday, Aamito’s composure under water greatly impressed the competition’s judges Oluchi, photographers Josie Borain and Remi Aditiba and Elle South Africa editor Jackie Burger.
Should Aamito emerge winner, a modelling contract with New Yorkbased DNA Model Management and a cash prize of $50,000 (sh125m) will be hers.
Aamito hopes that the experience gained from the competition will help propel the modeling industry in Uganda and change its face for better.