China-Kenya relations enhanced by exchanges in culture and arts

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Growing bi-lateral relations between China and Kenya are becoming more established every year. Until recently, the hard nut to crack was the apparently distant cultural relations between the two diverse societies.

While the Chinese are generally conservative, Kenyans are basically outgoing. The latter is an inherited trait from the country’s traditional social, economic and political exposure to the liberal West, both pre- and post-colonial.

China-Kenya cultural exchanges have come a long way. While Chinese civilization dates back 5,000 years, Kenya is seen as the cradle of mankind. China was among the first countries to recognize Kenya’s independence from the British colonialists in 1963.

Subsequently, exchanges between the two countries have deepened and increased in science, technology, education and culture. More Kenyans are enrolling for Chinese language lessons at the Confucius Institutes in the country.

There is a lot of work progressing between the two communities to promote people to people exchanges. In 2018, about 170 Kenyans were awarded China-sponsored scholarships to study in the Far East country. Further, over 600 citizens from all walks of life were also trained in China.

China-Kenya joint art performances are now growing in both popularity and significance. Their growth has been viewed as the epitome of the cultural exchange between the two countries, with each country showcasing choice performances from their vast repertoire.

But like in the fields of science and technology where China leads, Kenya also has some important cultural attributes lot to learn from the Chinese performing arts.

Let us take the case study of a recent joint performed titled, ‘When Nanjing Meets Nairobi, China-Kenya Art Show’, held at the University of Nairobi. The event was one of the several every year aimed at promoting the two countries friendship and cooperation.

Now, performances by the Nanjing artists were well-rehearsed, with seamless choreography. Secondly, the Chinese troupe had a large repertoire of items including dances, ventriloquism, Aerobatic Le Ballet, live bands, and magic performances. Kenya’s main acts included traditional dances, spiced with acrobatics.

Though the African songs and dances were authentic, they bordered on monotony, coupled with a dearth of creativity. Kenyans also need to undertake more research on instrumentation in order to modernise and blend their performances for global and contemporary audiences.

Another comparison can be made between the energy levels of performances between the two groups. Kenyan performers seemed to have low motivation and confidence levels compared to the vibrant Chinese group.

Chinese costumes were also tastefully, meticulously and colourfully designed, making them highly attractive. The performances also paid great attention to detail. One of the winning acts was a Chinese lady singer who dared cross the language barrier by singing the Kiswahili popular hit song Malaika.

However, both countries need to take a more proactive role in learning each other’s national language. This is more so for the Chinese who have been accused of exclusively using their language in multi-cultural settings, thus alienating their partners.

May be due to the fact that the Chinese community is far away from home in Nairobi, the turnout was more than two-thirds that of the host. There was an estimated attendance of 1,000 guests. But Kenyans have previously been accused of not fully promoting their own artists, something that needs to change for the country’s cultural development.

Just like in sports, culture has no barriers. Both Kenyans and the Chinese are gradually learning that inter-cultural tolerance and acceptance is about accentuating the positive aspects of each other’s outlook of life.

For the Chinese community in Kenya, the art show resonated with President Xi Jinping’s 2019 Spring Festival message, where he spoke of the need to enhance people’s love for the family and the country.

It also seated well with Xi’s appeal for the Chinese to work with people of other nationalities to build a community with a shared future for humanity. With such mutual understanding, initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation, will be greatly enhanced at both national and international levels.

Ultimately, it looks like decades of diligent nurturing of China-Kenya relations are bearing fruit. The two countries are ready to seize all current and emerging opportunities to enhance mutual understanding and build an even stronger community with shared values.

The writer is an author, communication specialist, and public policy analyst. [email protected]

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