It’s a Scholarship Program

Guinea is crazy for beauty pageants. I’m from the South, where pageants are a big deal, but I have never seen anything like this. Every high school and university, every neighborhood, has an annual pageant. You can’t drive down the street on any given day without seeing banners for at least one. So naturally I was excited to get an invitation to the Miss Conakry pageant at the Novotel on Saturday and to have an opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. Seamus* and Anne and I went, and it was quite an experience.

Formal wear, Guinea-style

The format was pretty familiar. The contestants did three runway walks – traditional dress, swimsuit, and formal wear – and each had one question to answer about the challenges facing Guinea as a country and society. There was no talent portion. I was actually very impressed with the questions, which covered topics such as HIV/AIDS, corruption, female circumcision, judicial reform, national unity, and the candidates’ messages to Guinea’s political leaders. Not a softball in the bunch. The answers were similarly impressive; while one or two contestants stumbled a bit, the majority came across as intelligent, articulate young ladies with a clear vision for the future of their country. Every one of them comported herself better than some American beauty queens.

A tearful transition

This year’s winner was Kadiatou Bah, who was my personal favorite. I may be slightly biased, but I thought her answer to the question she got on illegal emigration was spot-on, and she seemed the most relaxed and personable onstage. Of the 16 contestants, the new Miss Conakry and seven other finalists will move on to compete in the national Miss Guinea pageant in a couple of weeks. Seamus, our resident beauty pageant expert, had the honor of pinning the sash on the first runner-up. So congrats to Miss Bah and the other finalists, and good luck!

(Also, I really want to watch Miss Congeniality right now.)

*Not his real name, but he picked it out.