KIBII: 60 years of Sino-Kenya ties: Reflections on art and culture

Critical to sociocultural relations is the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute at UoN and KU.

In Summary
  • Through the institute, UoN and Tianjin Normal University have established a collaborative link that includes a student and lecturer exchange programme.
  • Chinese lecturers teach the Chinese language at UoN, whose lecturers in turn teach Kiswahili language at Tianjin Normal University.
Where you can learn Chinese in Kenya.
ART AND CULTURE: Where you can learn Chinese in Kenya.

A recent international symposium that brought together more than 100 scholars and diplomats from Africa and China concluded that, despite wide engagements between China and Africa on economic development, not much attention has been given to arts and culture in the 60 years of diplomatic relations.

Titled “Comparative Study of Chinese and African Civilisations," the meeting — convened by the China-Africa Institute and the Chinese Academy of History — noted that a number of institutional frameworks have emerged in promoting the activities in culture and arts between Kenya and China.

These include the Forum on China Africa Cooperation as a policy forum, the Belt and Road Initiative as a connectivity framework and the China Africa Institute as the intellectual base.

Straddling various fields of cooperation, including social issues and culture, FOCAC was established in 2000 as a multilateral platform for exchange and cooperation between China and African countries that have formal diplomatic relationships with Beijing.

At the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing in 2007, then President Hu Jintao declared cultural diplomacy as part of Beijing’s soft power to better guarantee people's basic cultural rights and interests. China has thus made deliberate decisions to promote cultural relations across the world, including in Africa, particularly in Kenya.

The FOCAC Beijing Action Plan (2019-2021) took note of China-Africa cultural and people-to-people cooperation plan and Beijing’s support for Africa in upgrading its cultural and art facilities, implementing the satellite TV project and providing government scholarships.

Through it, China also committed to promoting exchanges and cooperation in culture and arts through the media and among academia, think tanks, social organisations, youth and women, and consolidating the social foundation for China-Africa cooperation.

According to the Action Plan, China will continue to support Africa in carrying forward its traditional culture and enhance the mutual understanding and amity between the people.

Equally critical to the sociocultural relations is the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute established at the University of Nairobi to promote cultural exchanges and integration.

The institute, the first of its kind in Africa, was launched in December 2005, with President Jintao meeting the students and teachers on his visit to Kenya in 2006.

Through the institute, UoN and Tianjin Normal University have established a collaborative link that includes a student and lecturer exchange programme. Chinese lecturers teach the Chinese language at UoN, whose lecturers in turn teach Kiswahili language at Tianjin Normal University.

According to the institute’s website, from 2006, more than 200 students at Confucius Institute have studied in China on scholarship.

Mandarin is increasingly becoming a popular subject of study at several Kenyan universities and institutions and another institute was launched at Kenyatta University in December 2008. More than 1,526 students have thus far completed various Chinese certificate courses at the Institute.

On the media front, CGTN, the Chinese international broadcaster, has a bureau in Kenya, and covers the region from Nairobi. The China Daily newspaper is also available for free.

Due to the popularity of prolific Chinese actors Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee among the Kenyan households, China, through the Confucius Institute, has organised film festivals. Kenyan students in China also participate in various cultural events hosted by various universities.

A number of Kenyan students have benefited from Chinese government scholarships to study in Chinese universities in other courses other than language. For instance, through a partnership of Kenya Railways Corporation and the China Road and Bridge Corporation, more than 50 Kenyans are being trained at the Jiutong University on Railway Engineering and Management.

This is besides the knowledge transfer that has been achieved from Chinese to Kenyan professionals during the execution of projects such as the Standard Gauge Railwayand the Nairobi Expressway. The China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing is also hosting Kenyan students studying diplomacy at bachelor's and master's levels.

The skill sets learnt by Kenyans studying in various fields in China will be extremely crucial in the running and management of some of these key state assets.

These include the  SGR, Lamu port, Kipevu Oil Refinery and the Nairobi Expressway. Already, a number of these Kenyans have completed their tours of study and returned home to be absorbed in the technical jobs available.

At the grassroots, China is promoting and supporting sports that are associated with China such as Kungfu.

On May 6 this year, the second edition of the Kenya Kungfu Championship was held in Kiambu county. The event was hosted by Kenya Kungfu Federation and supported by the Chinese Embassy. Some 13 clubs and 70 competitors took part in the tournament, with the youngest contestant being only four years old.

According to Ngaruiya Njonge, chairman of Kenya Kungfu Federation, an estimated 3,000 Kenyans now actively participate in the sport. Kungfu has thus become a bridge of cultural exchange between Kenya and China. Already some Kenyan acrobats are performing in different parts of China. There certainly are more opportunities on both ends.

More opportunities that need to be exploited by both states still abound in culture and arts to not only enhance people-to-people relations but also create more employment opportunities.

During his meeting with China Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian on June 2, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing'oei said the two countries "shall continue to nurture Kenya and China economic and socio-cultural relations for the mutual benefit of our peoples" indicating commitment to enhancing ties on this front.

While the West has increasingly framed the ascendancy of China as an existential threat to the world as we know it, the aforementioned symposium advanced a new paradigm for Sino-African relations that recognise all global citizens as a community with a shared destiny and thus the need for mutual understanding and collective action.

This was exemplified by the Covid-19 pandemic, which demonstrated that humanity falls or succeeds as one, on collective action or lack thereof, regardless of culture or civilisation.

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