At the first scouting session, held at the M-Net offices in Bukoto, the usual Kabalagala girls showed up, but were quickly shown the door.
NEW VISION XTRA
KAMPALA - 1997 was a threshold year in the fashion industry in Uganda, because that was when the Face of Africa model talent search came here. From then, it was a case of before and after Face of Africa.
It is difficult to envisage what was happening before, but fashion events were mostly sleazy, often held in even sleazier places, like those questionable joints of Kabalagala.
Then South African model scout Jan Malan walked into town, and nothing was the same ever again. At the first scouting session, held at the M-Net offices in Bukoto, the usual Kabalagala girls showed up, but were quickly shown the door. That was when we realised that this was going to be very different from the usual, which was mainly where men went to get their pick of the girls on show.
Eventually, more ‘decent’ girls showed up, and after three very intense days, a few of them were chosen to go for the very first East African semi-finals held at Nairobi’s Safari Park Hotel.
Yours truly was chosen to go and cover the event, together with then Monitor’s Bernard Tabaire, then still a young lad. Everyone thought he was Nigerian, because he kept on introducing himself as ‘…my name is TabaireBernard’, all in one breath. Which led one South African to ask, “… is that one of those long Nigerian names?” Bernard didn’t seem to get the joke, but we all had a good laugh at his expense.
Among the Ugandan girls chosen for the Nairobi semis was Pearl Kasujja, Ellen Mugisha (originally Mugisa but she felt that sounded too masculine, so she added the ‘h’), and Sarah Senfuka. Another one was Hadja Bushira, who never seemed to be around much, but we would learn later why.
After the semi-finals, three girls were chosen to go for the first ever finals to be held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in 1998. Two were Kenyans, and the third was Bushira from Uganda.
But Bushira’s hopes for an international modelling career were soon dashed when it turned out that her Muslim family was against her participation. Things got quite heated, and it is said the family sent a threatening letter to the then M-Net representative, Ashley Myers. She never revealed what was in the letter, but Bushira was replaced by Ellen Mugisha, who had come fourth.
So Ellen joined 11 other girls for the final. Like most finals, anticipation as to who would win was high, and all kinds of odds were given. But we mostly ignored the tall but shy young girl from Nigeria, who never seemed to say much.
It turned out that we did not know much about modelling, because that young shy girl from Nigeria, then known as Patricia Oluchi, was declared winner. And boy, did she cry. Oluchi Onweagba was soon to become a supermodel herself, and still is.
The next East African semi-finals were held at the Sheraton Hotel, Kampala, and Ugandans finally got to see what a real fashion show is supposed to be like. Two Ugandan girls, Rhona Nabwire and Pamela Nyakairu, took part, but sadly neither qualified for the finals held in Namibia later that year. Nyakairu would try again the next year, but again she failed to make the cut. And this time the participants were required to bring signed letters of content from their parents, obviously the Bushira circus of 1997 had taught them some lessons.