Silence, inaction by Miss Rwanda sponsors is telling
The public await the outcome of the ongoing probe into sexual abuse allegations that plagued Miss Rwanda organizing firm, Rwanda Inspiration Backup, following the arrest of its head Dieudonne Ishimwe a.k.a Prince Kid weeks ago.
Mr. Ishimwe faces crimes including rape, soliciting or offering sexual favours, and harassment which he is suspected to have committed over the years at the helm of the pageant contest organisation and execution.
On Monday, Rwanda’s Ministry of Youth and Culture moved to suspend the competition pending completion of ongoing investigation.
Its statement fell short of saying anything beyond announcing the suspension, but it confirmed one major thing: The ministry has been the overseer of the beauty contest and therefore can be held to account for what transpired there.
Ever since the scandals broke weeks ago and became subject to media and public discussion, the management of contest organizing firm, its collaborators and sponsors -- who include corporates, big and medium firms in the country -- went in silent mood to date.
In particular, the sponsors are a key revenue stream for the beauty pageant as they pump millions into its organizing firm and related activities each year so as to gain visibility via the widely followed event in the country.
Their silence, therefore, is telling. Turning a blind eye to these scandals brings their professional morality and transparency into question. Do they condone sexual harassment?
What measures did they take to ensure the organizing firm’s compliance with safeguards/protection of young girls who participated in the beauty pageant?
For instance, the public would like to know what these sponsors knew or did, if any, about the plight of the girls.
They had powers to pile pressure on the organizers to adopt sexual harassment policy with clear mechanisms that help identify, prevent, mitigate and account for the alleged vices.
Would one be wrong to conclude that these corporates somehow failed hundreds of young girls who turn up for the nationwide contest each year should the sexual abuse allegations come out to be true?
They worked with the girls in branding and other activities that gave them visibility, and this implies their male and female staff were close collaborators with the girls and the beauty pageant organizers even after the contest period.
This makes it even more imperative to have mechanisms to check abuses. Were there any? So what went wrong?
The management of Rwanda Inspiration Back Up – if the latter is not a ‘briefcase’ or a one-person company -- failed to address these pertinent questions in public to date, and so did its collaborators and sponsors.
And it'd be foolish to think that the discussions in that regard would obstruct State’s ongoing investigation in any way. Instead, talking about these issues could raise awareness among the public and other events organisers, companies and institutions as far as protecting women and girls is concerned.
Sheep in the midst of wolves
Evidence suggest that there is no way the sponsors, just like relevant organs of government, would not have sensed that something was amiss in the Miss Rwanda contest way before things got out of hand.
Here is why:
In 2015 Doriane Kundwa, who had just been crowned Miss Rwanda, almost came to war with Rwanda Inspiration Backup after she rejected their mandatory mentorship to implement her projects. She insisted she would work with a management team of her choosing and which she trusted.
This was an alarm bell, or it was not loud enough.
Miss Rwanda 2020 Naomie Nishimwe, too, rejected the management of Rwanda Inspiration Backup soon after being crowned.
The resultant bad blood with the beauty pageant organising firm cost Nishimwe her salary and other prizes. She sought intervention of different government agencies which failed to read a ticking time bomb in the whole matter.
Little did change even after observers, including judges spoke out publicly questioning the all-male team at the helm of the contest organising firm, in particular.
A former senior judge once likened sending young girls to Rwanda Inspiration Backup to sending sheep in the midst of wolves. Unfortunately, people laughed it off and moved on.
So, it was impossible not to notice that girls were at risk before it got too late.
But, now as investigations into these allegations continue, where are all those who failed on the job? Come out, address the same public you enjoyed enticing to your products and services, and take steps to give the girls, and victims in particular, the support they need.
Dear sponsors of Miss Rwanda, do better. One would not be wrong to think that should it emerge that sex crimes indeed occurred, your complicity will be out of doubt.
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