Government steps in to save Miss Liberia from shame

It has ended its war and enjoyed two democratic elections, but for Liberia to select a winner of its national beauty contest has proved one challenge too far.

Almost a week after the Miss Liberia competition was held in the country’s capital, Monrovia, the government said it had seized the crown and was demanding a “situation report” on the fiasco surrounding the title.

“We are concerned about what happened at Miss Liberia,” said deputy information minister, Norris Tweah.

“It is a serious issue for us and we have to resolve it before it becomes a problem on an international level.”

The dispute started last week when the annual Miss Liberia contest—whose winner is entered into the regional Miss Ecowas competition—was held during a star-studded event attended by the president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Three judges, including the winner of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, Onyeka Uchechakwu, selected a winner based on a points system and gave their choice to the master of ceremonies to announce.

They had chosen Miss Montserrado County, Brigitte Rouhana (21), whose promotional video shows a glamorous student dressed in high heels, party outfits and shades alongside the message: “We all have the ability to make the world a better place.”

But, according to the organiser of the event, Chris Dorkor, the winner announced on stage was Leda Knowlden (18)—Miss Lofa County—a contestant who had scored fewer votes than even the second runner-up and who judges say did not meet the standard required for the Miss Liberia crown.

“When it came to announce the winner, the MC announced a different girl altogether,” said Dorkor.

“She was apparently the most popular contestant according to the SMS vote, but this is not a reality show it is a beauty pageant. The SMS vote cannot count. If the prize is just going to go to the girl with the most SMS votes, we might as well all go home.”

Since then the dispute has been escalating.
Organisers stormed out of the ceremony in protest and threatened to disqualify Liberia from Miss Ecowas, a humiliating exclusion from a major event on West Africa’s showbusiness calendar.

“If they insist on giving the title to the girl they are calling the winner, we will disqualify Liberia from Miss Ecowas,” Dorkor said.

“Nothing like this has ever happened at Miss Ecowas before. It defies logic.”

Beauty pageants are big business in West Africa and cellphone companies and networks are among the large corporations that queue up to sponsor the annual events.

Such is the concern in Liberia about its potential disqualification from the regional contest that the government has now intervened in what it says is a situation of the utmost seriousness.

“Whether or not we participate in Miss Ecowas is a serious issue for us,” said Tweah. “That is why we have requested a report and are trying to resolve it.”—

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