All was set for the weeklong Tulambule Ne Quiin tourism campaign in eastern Uganda, until the morning hours of January 27 when word came that the much-anticipated trip with Miss World - Africa, Quiin Abenakyo, would not happen.
Journalists, travel enthusiasts and officials of the ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities had assembled at the Independence monument in Kampala, ready to be flagged off by the state minister for Tourism Godfrey Kiwanda.
The beauty queen had featured in a TV commercial promoting her Tulambule ne Quiin trip, which gave Kiwanda assurance that she would surely be available for the weeklong tour of Uganda’s tourism sites in the east and Karamoja.
By daybreak on January 27, the narrative had changed; the storyline was that she had a bad tooth and her doctor had advised that she takes a rest.
“The Queen is not feeling well. Much as she wanted to be part of the Tulambule trip, doctors have stopped her from travelling until she gets well,” Brenda Nanyonjo, the chief executive officer of Miss Uganda Foundation, said.
Uganda Tourism Board (UTB), the organisers of the trip, were quick to accept her explanation which is, however, turning out to have been a lie. According to knowledgeable sources, Abenakyo was stopped by her family from taking part in the campaign meant to promote Uganda’s tourism.
The Observer has been made to understand that for the weeklong trip, UTB had committed to give her a take-home allowance of Shs 14m on top of according her VIP treatment, unlike Zarina Hassan, who was never given any financial incentive during the Tulambule Ne Zari campaign.
In November last year, Kiwanda appointed socialite Zarina a tourism ambassador, and with her, they visited a number of tourism sites in western Uganda.
“Apart from the VIP treatment, she was never given any allowances because for her, by using her social media influence to promote Uganda’s tourism was a contribution to her motherland,” a source said.
After her success at Miss World, Abenakyo was taken on by Kiwanda as another tourism goodwill ambassador whom he unveiled at a press conference on January 15.
“I prefer digital marketing; working with social influencers to promote Uganda’s tourism as opposed to spending billions of shillings to send delegations out of the country to promote Uganda,” Kiwanda told The Observer. “That is how I came up with Tulambule Ne Zari, Tulambule Ne Quiin and many others who can make an impact for us on the digital platforms.”
The Tulambule Ne Quiin campaign started taking a nosedive on January 23 when a parliamentary debate on a motion to honour the beauty queen turned into a grilling for Kiwanda.
Questions came up as to why government did not facilitate her to attend the Miss World beauty contest in China last year. Kiwanda was also accused of wanting to exploit her with an appointment as a goodwill ambassador, yet government pays millions of dollars to international public relations firms to market the country.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga led MPs in making demands that Kiwanda gives Abenakyo a permanent job at the ministry, since she had just graduated from Makerere University.
From the distinguished persons gallery, Abenakyo, her family members and Nanyonjo watched as Kiwanda struggled to respond.
In the end, Abenakyo slapped Kiwanda with a Shs 100m bill for her to take up the role of a tourism goodwill ambassador, effectively grinding all preparations to a halt.
The minister declined to respond to our questions and instead referred us to UTB. UTB publicist Sandra Natukunda told The Observer that Abenakyo had again pulled out of the trip that had been rescheduled to yesterday (Tuesday), saying she had other engagements.
“But the trip will continue with other influencers including Miss Tourism Margaret Kankwanzi and socialite Anita Fabiola, among others,” she said.
When The Observer reached Abenakyo on her known mobile phone number, she patiently listened to the query, then hung up without a response. Further attempts to talk to her have proved futile.