MISS ATEKER: A BEAUTY PAGEANT THAT STANDS FOR PEACE AND CULTURE

It was a moment to hold hands and wait silently for the winner to be announced, however this crowd was shouting “number seven” repeatedly; louder than the judge using the microphone. The crowd (and judges too) is a unique one drawn from three countries and sharing one ancestry and united by a common dialect.

Calling themselves Ateker, this crowd represented the Turkana (Kenya), Toposa (South Sudan) and Karamoja and Teso (Uganda) communities. They had come together to witness the crowing of the first ever beauty queen that will be promoting peaceful coexistence and their culture across the region at the Mount Moroto Hotel, Uganda.

“We are only separated by flags. We speak the same language,” said Jennifer Nawoi – County Executive Committee member (CEC) of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Natural Resources in her speech during the event. “It [Miss Ateker] started as a small idea, but now it has grown big enough to cross international borders.”

The Ateker Beauty Pageantry was initiated by young people from Kenya (Turkana) and Uganda (Karamoja) regions who saw it necessary to bring together the Ateker community for development and peaceful coexistence. It would use beauty and art to address harmful traditional practices and attitudes that hinder the progress and development of the community.

“We, the youth, wanted to play a role in fostering peace efforts that our leaders have been engaging in. Our leaders in peace meetings target the youth with their messages. No old person goes to raid. It is upon us the youth to come up with more initiatives to bring peace to our homes and communities,” said Bernard Lennon, the chair of the Miss Ateker-Turkana Chapter.

In its efforts to celebrate being part of the Ateker Community, County Government of Turkana organises an annual cultural festival; Tobong’u Lore (come back home). It then invites the other communities including Nyangatom from Ethiopia.

Currently the region has had relative peace, thanks to two peace agreements signed by the regional government leaders; Lokirima Peace Accord between the Turkana and Karamoja (Uganda) and Nadapal Peace Declaration between the Turkana and Toposa (South Sudan).

“Miss Ateker is the unifying factor of the Ateker community. The Toposa, Turkana, Nyangatom [of Ethiopia], Iteso, Karamoja and Lango must unite as one community,” said Jennifer Nabongurika, Minister of Gender, Kapoeta State of South Sudan Government.

As one of the guests of honour of the event, Ms Nabongurika added that in her state they did not discriminate against other Ateker community members. “When it comes to job opportunities let’s treat the Ateker as the same for peace. Kapoeta has jobs for our young people.”

Choosing the queen

Ten beauty queens from Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan had been in four-day boot camp training for the Grand Finale. Poised and confident, they presented their creative attire that was inspired by the Ateker culture. They showcased the similarity – the loruanta (Maasai blanket) won by all, and differences in each community’s traditional attire like the heavy use of beads by the Toposa. All the while answering the judges’ questions.

In the end the crowd favourite and contestant number seven, Gladys Namoi, a Toposa from Kapoeta State in South Sudan, was crowned as the first Miss Ateker 2018/2019. Turkana County’s Zipporah Alimlim was the first runners-up and Longokwo Louise of South Sudan as well was the second runners-up. The Miss Ateker Chapters represented were Turkana, Karamoja, Iteso and Toposa.

“We were not only judging on beauty alone,” said Washington Malala, one of the judges. “We are looking at how confidence, ability to express themselves, power and control and communication skills.”

The 18-year old beauty queen has been given the responsibility to promote peace coexistence and create awareness against gender-based violence among the Ateker cluster.

Next year, Kapoeta State

With the crown in South Sudan, they are expected to host the next year’s pageant. However, it will depend on the commitment from the three regional governments to make the pageantry

“I am happy the girls have started and therefore let’s all rally behind them. My request to the three governments, kindly take over this initiative and ran it. It’s been difficult for us because of lack of funds and thanks to everyone who supported. I thank Governor Nanok for his good will.” said Bernard.

Sharing the same sentiment, CEC Nawoi requested that they should all promote the event; “take the idea forward.”

As the host guest of honour, Andrew Napaja – Local Council 5 of Moroto District, Uganda, recounted the beginning of Miss Ateker from Lokiriama Peace Accord, then Tobong’u Lore to the pageant; which he described as the climax.