Since the launch of Mr Africa International 8 years ago, no Kenyan contestant has made it to the final round until now. Said Hussein, Kenya’s first finalist in the Mr Africa International pageant overcame depression and weight-shaming to emerge the best out of 10 Kenyan contestants. He will compete against 8 finalists for the African crown.
Nation.co.ke caught up with him in Nairobi as he prepared to leave for the final round of the pageant in Lagos, Nigeria.
Congratulations on being voted in as one of the finalists in the competition. What is Mr Africa International about?
It is a beauty pageant for men with creative minds/ideas and a background in community service.
How did you get into the competition?
I helped last year’s winner to get ready for the competition and he challenged me that, if he won (which he did) I would have to compete this year. I did not see this win coming at any given point.
Have you always wanted to join the modelling industry?
I began modelling in primary school when I was 12. It is something that I always wanted to do. Maybe I was a model in my previous life.
Did you do a lot of modelling before Mr Africa International?
Yes, I've done a lot of shows in Kenya. I've done African Fashion Fair, Samantha’s bridal, Nairobi fashion show and several other shows.
How did you start your modelling career?
I've never worked with a modelling agency but when I set my mind on something, I do it. For example, last Saturday I was at the opening of Millionaire’s Casino. A designer recognised me and he said, “I have one piece, would you like to model it?” and I said yes.
What has your support system been like?
I’ve had a good support system. My niece has been my number one fan, ever since I won, she insists on calling me Mr Africa 2019. My friend and fashion designer, Filbert Mkwiche of Fintan Fashions, makes all my suits and he has been a huge support. All my sisters and some of my family members are very supportive. My manager EJ Maina is also very supportive.
You said ‘some’ of your family members, what about the rest?
You know coming from a Muslim family and entering a background in entertainment, PR, and Marketing, you don’t expect to get all the support but at the end of the day, as Lady Gaga said, ‘There can be 100 people in a room but you only need one person to believe in you, the other 99 do not really count.’
Have you encountered many challenges in modelling?
Before this competition came, I was depressed and I didn’t want to compete. I had everything but at the same time, I felt empty. After seeing one of my friends die after struggling with depression, I thought that it was time to wake up and do something different. I started exercising and dropped from 95 kgs to 76 kgs.
Did you receive any negative feedback after being nominated?
Yes, people said: “He is overweight, he weighs 90 kgs, and what does he think he is going to achieve from this?” I have been called all sorts of names. I was even laughed at but I would rather be a laughing stock after I have tried and at least represented my country.
Have you ever experienced not being paid after doing a modelling job?
To be honest, I have never been paid for any modelling job. Most of the shows I have done were for charity and others were work-related. But, I know a lot of models who don’t get paid. We need to invest in models.
How are you preparing for the competition?
I routinely speak to myself at 3 am every morning. I tell myself good things and psyche myself up. I also surround myself with people who believe in me, they keep me going.
Are there some physical requirements you had to meet in this competition?
There were no specific requirements. Most people think that to be a male model and a beauty pageant competitor you have to have a great body and be a certain height but that is just 10%. Your brain is more important.
You are going to have investors who want you to market their brand and invest their money wisely. It is easy to make a great body but how easy is it to make a great mind?
Age is not a major factor for most male models. Has that been an advantage for you?
Yes, you see I am 31. Major designers and fashion shows want female models between the ages of 16 and 22, (unless you are Naomi Campbell). But for men, you can be 50 and still be a model. For this competition, the age limit was 32. It came at the right time.
Do you plan to continue modelling for a long time?
My dream is to be the face of the Kenyan male modelling fraternity. We don’t have many Kenyan male models representing us worldwide. We can have male models representing us in South Africa fashion week, Ghanaian fashion week and Nigerian fashion week. Maybe then we can have Kenyan fashion week back.
I hope the Kenyan government can come in and support this.
Do you get a lot of female attention?
In the modelling world, it is all the attention, there is no specific gender.
What do you do to unwind?
I work out a lot. I also work with a wellness centre in Malindi called Shala Heart that deals with mind, body, and soul.