Soon after his electrifying kung fu performance during the Chinese New Year Gala held at the Two Rivers Mall located in the northern suburbs of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on Saturday, Michael Jessy became the star of the moment.
The 17-year-old Chinese language major at Kenyatta University, Kenya’s second-oldest public university, lightened up the mood of the audience who braved the humid weather to celebrate the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year.
“I am very happy to have participated in this gala and to have experienced many aspects of Chinese culture. Being able to perform kung fu and dance in front of this huge crowd was exceptional,” Jessy said.
Convened by the Kenya Overseas Chinese Association and the Kenya Chinese Women Association, the Nairobi Chinese New Year Gala attracted hundreds of visitors from various nationalities.
With the goal of sharing joy, peace, and human solidarity, which are key attributes of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the gala featured cultural performances, including kung fu, dragon dancing, Chinese cuisine, a lucky draw, and interactive games.
The inaugural Nairobi Chinese New Year Gala was attended by Zainab Hawa Bangura, director-general of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, and Zhou Pingjian, Chinese ambassador to Kenya.
His excitement was palpable as Daniel Musyoka, a 24-year-old economics and Chinese language major at the University of Nairobi, Kenya’s oldest university, confessed that the melodious tunes played during the gala were entertaining and therapeutic.
“The melodious voices of the Chinese and some Kenyan performers had a healing effect as well as providing a unique form of entertainment,” said Musyoka, admitting that he was impressed by the Chinese cuisine during the gala.
The wide courtyard of the Two Rivers Mall, built by a Chinese company, was filled with merriment, cross-cultural dialogue, and family reunions as the gala entered the home stretch.
Hordes of visitors from all walks of life flocked to tastefully decorated exhibition stands showcasing Chinese food, beverages, green technology, clothing, and artwork.
Milkah Rotich, a 26-year-old university student, said she was enchanted by the cultural performances, the aroma of Chinese cuisine, and the interaction with foreign visitors who strolled around the gala venue.
“This is my first time at the gala. I feel like I am in China. I enjoyed the cultural performances. The most memorable thing I will do after the gala is to interact with Chinese people doing business in Kenya,” said Rotich.
She added that the gala was an opportunity for Kenyans to experience various elements of Chinese culture.
Kenyans from all walks of life relished attending the gala amid its emphasis on time-honored concepts such as unity, harmony, joy, dialogue, and sharing, said Gao Wei, chairman of the Kenya Overseas Chinese Association.
According to Gao, the gala was a cultural event but had significant participation from Chinese companies operating in Kenya in various sectors such as construction, financial services, and manufacturing.
He said the gala provided a platform to promote China-Kenya friendship, adding that the Year of the Dragon heralds prosperity and good health for the citizens of both countries.
Benson Kamau, a Chinese language teacher at Kenyatta University’s Confucius Institute, said it was important to educate local people about the global significance of the Chinese New Year.
Kamau noted that Chinese New Year celebrations in Kenya have evolved, providing a golden opportunity to strengthen cultural diplomacy, understanding, and friendship.
The Nairobi Chinese New Year Gala served as a rallying call for Kenyans to learn more about Chinese culture after the two countries marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in December 2023, said Henry Rotich, chairman of the Kenya-China Alumni Association.
While acknowledging the vitality of Kenya-China relations across different economic sectors, Rotich said it has unleashed mutual benefits, including better cross-cultural understanding, job creation, and skills transfer.
Stephen Ndegwa, a Nairobi-based expert on China-Africa relations, said the gala took place against the backdrop of China’s growing influence in Kenya, adding that investments from the Asian nation have transformed the livelihoods of local citizens.