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Beauty contest to revamp African image

The finalists pose for a group photograph (African Mirror Foundation)

The Swiss capital plays host to a unique beauty pageant this weekend as 16 women compete for the title of Miss Africa Switzerland.

Organisers hope the inaugural event in Bern will help promote a "positive image" of Africa and Africans living in the country.

The contest, billed as the "first-ever beauty pageant for people of African descent in Switzerland", attracted hundreds of contestants.

The final 16 – who come from countries across the African continent - were chosen to compete on the catwalk after a pre-selection audition in May.

The winner will take home a cash prize of SFr3,000 ($2,300) and receive a year’s supply of beauty treatments from a leading Swiss salon.

But Emmanuel Mark Bamidele, president of the African Mirror Foundation (AMF), told swissinfo that all Africans would benefit from the contest.

"Miss Africa Switzerland will provide a unique opportunity to present Africans in a good light," he said.

Challenging stereotypes

The AMF was set up in November 2003 in a bid to challenge the traditional perception of Africans in Switzerland.

"Here in Switzerland... it seems that Africans are known primarily for drug-dealing, fraud and so on," said Bamidele.

"This is not good for our image and we know we could do better... so the beauty contest is one way of carrying out our objective."

Janerose Rohrbach-Bissau, a member of the organising committee, believes the event will also enhance cultural ties.

"The pageant will promote African cultural heritage in Switzerland as well as bring Swiss and Africans together," she said, adding that the contest would "foster unity" among the country’s 35,000-strong African community.

The main event of the evening – a series of probing question and answer sessions with the finalists followed by the traditional catwalk parade – will be accompanied by performances of African dance and a fashion show.

Celebrity lifestyle

The idea for the contest came to Bamidele while sitting at home watching the annual Miss Switzerland contest on television.

"As I was watching the programme, I jokingly said to my wife that we should organise a similar contest for Africans living here, to give them the chance to enjoy the same kind of exposure and celebrity lifestyle," he said.

"The truth is that it’s very difficult for Africans - even if they have a Swiss passport - to get into the Miss Switzerland pageant."

The organising committee is banking on offers of lucrative modelling contracts for the winning contestant, in the hope that this will lead to more publicity for the African community as a whole.

"The exposure that the contest will give the contestants should open doors to the Swiss modelling and advertising industry," said Bamidele.

But Silvia Nambuya, a 22-year-old contestant from Uganda who lists her hobbies as "reading, chilling and dancing", says Miss Africa Switzerland is about more than just good looks and glamour.

"If I win the contest, my plan is to show the world the positive side to Africa."

swissinfo, Ramsey Zarifeh

Key facts

Sixteen finalists are competing for the title of Miss Africa Switzerland 2005.
The jury is made up of two Swiss and three Africans.
Countries represented in the contest include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The winner will receive a cash prize of SFr3,000. Second-tier prizes will be awarded to the winners of the following categories: Miss Tradition, Miss Personality and Miss Photogenic.

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