Cultural exchanges nourish Sino-Kenya friendship | 2014-February-6 14:51 | Editor: Bi Mingxin

The glossy photographs on the hallway leading to the Confucius Institute, University of Nairobi provide a sneak preview on robust cultural exchanges between Kenya and China.

Faculty members and students enrolled at the Confucius Institute in Kenya's oldest university agreed that China's centuries old civilization has a strong imprint on the east African nation.

As Kenya refashions its policy to turn east, policymakers and scholars were unanimous that arts and culture will play a critical role in cementing friendship between the two nations.

Sino-Kenya cultural exchange programs were formalized 50 years ago when the east African nation gained independence.

"China has awarded thousands of scholarships to Kenyan policymakers, scholars and young students to visit the country and learn its unique culture and traditions. These scholarships have always been channelled through line ministries of foreign affairs, education and culture," said a mid ranking official at the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Sports who requested anonymity.

The official who did not want to be named added that since independence, Kenyan policymakers have benefitted from Chinese government scholarships to study in various fields ranging from medicine, technology, arts, culture and diplomacy.

"Chinese universities have been the training ground for some of our best technocrats in diverse areas like agriculture, diplomacy, music and literature. A certain generation of Kenyans was exposed to oriental culture way back in the 60s," he told Xinhua in Nairobi on Thursday.

He added that the government is committed to foster robust cultural exchanges between Kenyan and Chinese youths as part of a new look foreign policy.

"We have made significant inroads in our economic cooperation with China and the time is ripe to cultivate friendship through education, arts and culture," said the government official.

The overwhelming influence of Western culture on Kenyans has limited their understanding of oriental traditions.

Aghan Odero, a veteran thespian told Xinhua that cooperation between Kenya and China in the fields of arts and culture is yet to reach an optimal level thanks to colonial history.

"An entire generation of Kenyans grew up under the tutelage of Western mentors and role models who imparted their values and traditions on us. A few Kenyans were exposed to the East," said Odero.

The middle aged thespian has visited China several times on Kenyan government funded cultural exchange programs. Odero confessed his admiration of Chinese contemporary arts including folklore and dance.

"Now that we have Chinese presence in our educational institutions, it is my hope that young Kenyans will study Chinese civilization and the country's journey through history," Odero told Xinhua.

Kenyans who have visited China in recent times revealed to Xinhua their admiration of China's rich culture and traditions.

"During my stint in China, I learnt that the Chinese people cherish their culture. The entire country cerebrates all cultural events and showcase them to foreigners," said Joan Omollo, a mandarin student at the University of Nairobi.

Omollo is a member of Confucius choir and visited China twice last year courtesy of a cultural exchange program funded by the Chinese government to expose foreign students to the Asian giant's six centuries old civilization.

"I mingled with local people in Beijing and Tianjin and learnt a lot about the country's history. Our hosts were very receptive and enlightened us on many aspects of Chinese contemporary arts and culture," Omollo told Xinhua during a recent interview.

Asked whether she encountered any cultural shock in China, Omollo admitted that besides language barrier, Chinese people are friendly to foreigners and are keen on learning more about the outside world.

The young female student is well acquainted with all Chinese cultural festivals and hailed their authenticity and glamour.

She regretted that Kenyans' understanding of Chinese culture and traditions is still limited due to colonial legacy.

"Many Kenyans are biased towards Western culture due to the influence of media and the naive belief that anything from America or Europe is superior and chic. Now that we are turning East, it is my hope that Kenyans will learn Chinese language and culture to smoothen our relationship with our new friends," Omollo told Xinhua.

Her fellow student at the Confucius Institute, Kwamboka Ngoko admitted that cultural exchanges between Kenya and China are experiencing teething problems due to limited interaction between the two peoples.

"Mandarin was just introduced in our universities recently and besides that, many Kenyans understanding of China is limited in the economic field like infrastructure development. Chinese should make effort to learn English and Kenyans should learn a bit of mandarin to promote better understanding," said Ngoko.

There is a consensus among scholars that China and Kenya should invest more in cultural exchange programs to nourish their bilateral ties.

"Culture, education and arts will build bridges and strengthen all forms of cooperation between Kenya and China," said the director of the Confucius Institute of University of Nairobi, Professor Sa Dequan.