For nearly a month, the Rwandan blogosphere has been boiling around a dynamic young woman named Josiane Mwiseneza running for Miss Rwanda 2019. With a punk haircut, modest clothing style, toe injury, lack of make-up, and average height does, Josiane Mwiseneza seemed not fit the stereotypes usually conveyed by candidates for Miss Rwanda when she applied for the contest. However, almost a month after having applied, she has captured a strong following and support of her fellow Rwandans, obtaining a popular admiration with an impressive proportion, in a country that is usually accustomed to elections held in relative anonymity and slightly revealed by some bad buzz around the participants low performances in terms of foreign language proficiency.
The support for Josiane Mwiseneza’s candidacy is such that it is described as “historic” by several local medias. Songs have already been composed to her glory, poems are circulating, a fortune teller has predicted her victory, and a blessing for the young woman has been shared thousands of times. Even the political world has been pulled into the phenomenon to the point that Alvera Mukabaramba, the Rwandan Secretary of State for Social Affairs, has been campaigning support on Twitter. Recently, a petition was circulated to amend the rules of the Miss Rwanda contest with the goal to “remove all obstacles that could prevent Josiane from being crowned Miss Rwanda 2019“. Thus far, the petition has received more than 1000 signatures. For some commentators “if we have been able to change the constitution, we can modify the rules of this competition to make sure that, the candidate chosen by the Rwandans, is the one elected.»
The community in the region where Josiane Mwiseneza is from is totally surprised by her success. Anne Marie Mukankusi Gwiza, a neighbor of the family, described the general state of mind to a local media as following “We thought the “Miss Rwanda” contest was for girls who live in cities only. I couldn’t believe it was Mwiseneza who spends her days like us sweeping, pulling grass, and feeding cows. Our neighbors are all surprised and continue to wonder who would have pushed her into such an adventure. But, looking at where things stand, we support her and we are very proud because she represents our region.”
Her brother was completely shocked by his younger sister’s success, and for good reason because her mother excepted, Josiane made it a point of honor not to inform anyone of her adventure. Her reasons were simple, Josiane wanted to maintain her independency, preventing people from discouraging her, and to prevent those who would support her from trying to lecture on how to compete. Josiane’s brother hopes the competition, now boosted by his sister’s success, can be an “opportunity for Rwanda” thanks to the recent popularity of the competition outside the country’s borders.
“10 km” walking
The story begins on Sunday, December 16, 2018 during the pre-selections of the Miss Rwanda 2019 candidates at the Inzozi Beach Hotel located in Gisenyi. On that day, those present saw a young woman arrive out of breath, dressed modestly, slightly injured on her left foot and who, as soon as she arrived, would be the first to be heard by the jury.
Josiane Mwiseneza on her way by from the pre-selection. Photo credit: Igihe.com
At the end of the audition, the media rushed to this candidate and bombarded her with sometimes strange questions such as her toe injury, her hair, her physical appearance, and published a video titled “Mwiseneza Josiane came on foot and has toe injuries“. Rwanda’s most widely read written media, Igihe.com, dedicated its headlines to the young woman. Their article “Mwiseneza walked nearly 10 km to participate in the Miss Rwanda contest” displayed a photo of her feet showing the minor injuries sustained while travelling to the competition.
The interview quickly became viral and exceeded 150,000 viewers in just a few days, a huge number for a video in Kinyarwanda. The intentions behind some questions of the journalists are unclear, but the vast majority of viewers labeled the nature of the questions as disguised mockery and published several dozen virulent comments against the journalists. One of the most popular comments denounces “contempt” for the poor, the commentator writing “People are equal, we come from the same place and we all go to the same place“. Another, while underlining the confidence shown by the candidate, points to the “lack of professionalism, respect and maturity” showed by the questions of some journalists. Some commentators even go so far as insulting the journalists.
Despite these questions, many Internet users are seduced by the confidence shown by the unemployed 23-year-old woman from a poor family living in rural Rwanda. She does not let herself be affected by the derogatory questions. For each of them, she spontaneously finds the right answer. For example, when asked why the media rushes to her rather than to the other candidates she responded “You should be the ones answering this question, as you are the one who invited me for this interview.»
In the days following this interview, newspaper articles and videos about the young woman multiplied to reach a cumulative total of several million views. Comments of supporters were endless and Isimbi Tv, another Rwandan online television station, visited the young woman for a long interview.
This interview again quickly exceeds 150,000 views, and Josaine Mwiseneza is perceived as impressive by her lucidity and confidence: “When I introduced myself, I didn’t ask myself any question, for me whether I come by car, from the city or the rural area is not one of the criteria on which women are selected, the most important thing in my head was the answers I would give to the jury’s questions.»
The young woman wants Miss Rwanda’s crown to finally leave Kigali where “it has often landed“. She would like the crown to land in the rural area “because this world is also part of Rwanda“. In her opinion, crowning her would allow her to be a spokesperson and an example for rural girls in the hope of giving them self-confidence and making them aware of their value and the fact that all girls have the same rights.
Beyond the crown, Josiane sees an opportunity to carry out several projects, in particular, she wants to fight child malnutrition. “In area where I come from there is a major problem of child malnutrition. I would like to use my popularity and the fact that many people are listening to me now, to tell them about my project of fighting child malnutrition. You may be in Kigali or other cities and think that this problem is not your concern, but if tomorrow, for example, you need a servant, where will you find him if they all suffer from malnutrition? What will tomorrow’s Rwanda be like when it could have produced doctors, soldiers who defend the country, people who contribute to the country’s development if everyone is malnourished? Even if your children do not suffer from it, the consequences will also fall on you;“calling on all Rwandans to feel concerned by this problem.
Child Malnutrition is on of the biggest problem Rwanda faces. According to the government statistics, 38% of Rwandan children were affected in 2015. The project of fighting child malnutrition is one the reason that convinced the secretary of state to support Josiane’s candidacy “Mwiseneza Josiane has a noble project of fighting child malnutrition in her region” she wrote on twitter.
Josiane already has an idea of how she plans to proceed: “I’m not planning to buy luxury food for the children, but rather to make them more aware of the eating habits they need to avoid suffering from malnutrition.” She explains that she regularly reads the comments she receives, especially the advices from several supporters on how to carry out and improve her project. Lucid, she says she is aware that people might want to divert her sudden notoriety to purposes that are not in line with her values: “I am careful about that”.
Several hundred comments have so far been published about the video and thousands more under different platforms, showing strong support for the young woman described as a “heroine” for her courage in breaking down social barriers and daring to run for the election. The young woman is also praised for her eloquence, spontaneity, authenticity, self-confidence and personality. Supporters come from all over Rwanda as well as from Rwandans living all over the world who see her as an example of courage and an icon capable of contributing to the development of rural world and effectively reducing child malnutrition as she aims.
The last 20
On January 5, 2019, a few days after the publication of this interview, Josiane Mwiseneza had another milestone to reach during the Miss Rwanda competition. With 37 candidates still in the running, the jury was responsible for eliminating nearly half of them and selecting only 20 who will take part in a two-week retreat.
The organizers had previously announced that the candidate with the most likes on her photo on social networks would get an automatic pass for this last step. Josiane Mwiseneza will win this stage with a cumulative of 37,074 likes, 10 to 20 times more than the number obtained by the other candidates.
Despite this pass for the next stage, the young woman is required to appear before the jury and answer a few questions like all other candidates. But as soon as she arrives on stage, the audience rises and cheers of support are heard. The display will be such that the jury will be unable to hear her answers because of the noise of the crowd that will only end when she leaves the stage. The inaudibility of her answers will not have any consequences as she had obtained this automatic qualification.
The support shown to Josiane Mwiseneza is not limited to virtual support through social networks. The New Times, Rwanda’s leading English-language daily newspaper, has already devoted several articles to her and reported that several people in the diaspora would have started a fundraising campaign to support her application and project. According to Josiane, the financial support received so far is well below what is annonced because “many people say they want to contribute financially but a few of them effectively do it“.
But some of them have already made their contributions a reality by providing a car with a driver because they no longer wanted her to have to “walk to the competition“.
A fan living in the United States has promised to send her a car to ensure her future travel regardless of the outcome of the competition.
In addition, a professional bodyguard has volunteered to ensure her safety. The young woman’s brother explains that this man called the candidate several times to express his admiration. “I’m a fan,” he said, “and I wish you wouldn’t be bothered by anyone when you walk down the street, my contribution will be to be your bodyguard”.
This security is far from being a luxury because scenes of jubilation are regularly observed in her path, the young woman being slowed down or even blocked by crowds celebrating her.
The candidate’s success is such that even the stone she tripped on while traveling to the pre-selections is the subject of humorous discussions and diversions, as can be seen in the post of this Internet user who attributes the following legend to the image of a stone: “The stone on which Miss Josiane stumbled was placed in a museum and can be seen there.»
Two weeks before the official proclamation of the results, young people are already filming themselves celebrating Josiane Mwiseneza’s victory in the “after party” of the Miss Rwanda contest because “Josiane has already been elected Miss Rwanda and no one can dispute it“.
“The CatTV”, the country’s most famous Youtuber with more than 100,000 subscribers, posts videos sometimes several times a day evoking the young woman. The titles, such as “This is it, Mwiseneza Josiane elected Miss Rwanda“, leaves little doubt about his predictions for the outcome of the contest.
Igihe.com, the number one newspaper also displays on its website a cartoon predicting Josiane’s victory. The cartoon refers to the similarity between the shape of Josiane Mwiseneza’s face and the effigy of the Miss Rwanda contest, with a character exclaiming, “This is the one that the effigy of the Miss Rwanda contest had long time announced!!!!” in front of spectators and organizers amazed by the coincidence.
Despite almost unanimous support, Josiane is not short of critics, as is usually the case around this type of phenomenon. Criticism is rare but often amplified by the sometimes virulent responses of Josiane’s numerous supporters. One of the criticisms often leveled by Josiane Mwiseneza’s detractors relates to her physical appearance, some people think she does not fit the beauty standards for such an election. The issue has grown to such an extent that online television programs have been devoted on it. For example, one of the programs broadcast by Isimibi TV on January 7, 2019, which has more than 40,000 views on Youtube, is entitled “How is she ugly? Mike scratches those who say Josiane is ugly and shouldn’t be Miss Rwanda.”
The show gives the floor to Mike Karangwa, who answers the question: “You, who say she’s not pretty, what are you basing yourself on? What does a pretty girl look like? The one you say is pretty, I may not find her to be my kind. These criticisms remind me of the Rwandan proverb which says that “anyone who wants to criticize a cow invites one to look at her udder. All I’m saying is leave her alone, if she is crowned miss, we’ll go out on the street and rejoice!»
Paradoxically, for many of her supporters, it is precisely her physical appearance that is one of her main assets: “She has a natural beauty and breaks stereotypes, she represents the vast majority of Rwandan women who do not feel corresponding to these stereotypes on beauty” can be read on Facebook.
Some have even gone so far as to say that her dark skin is in line with the government’s program, which recently banned the use of lightening products that cause many skin cancers. To crown the young woman would undoubtedly make these wide spread clichésdisappear in people’s mind, such as to be beautiful you must be light skinJosiane’s supporters regularly invite her to avoid falling into the temptation of unwrapping or applying make-up because “it is precisely her natural look that contributes to her success“.
Another subject of criticism is her proficiency with the English language. Josiane does not seem disturbed by these criticisms, sometimes virulent or even mocking: “I do not spend time on them because they can make me deviate from my line, if they are things I have done wrong I try to correct them, and if there are things I have done well I continue on this path. »
“In my opinion I meet all the criteria to be elected Miss Rwanda, but the decision does not belong to me. It belongs to the judges, it is up to them to say that I would miss such or such thing that could prevent me from being elected,”Josiane often answered to those who ask her about what she would lack to be crowned.
The election will take place in Kigali on the 26thof January 2019.