Year of the Dragon in Kenya: Chinese get a taste of home away from home at Lunar New Year’s gala in Nairobi

Year of the Dragon in Kenya: Chinese get a taste of home away from home at Lunar New Year’s gala in Nairobi

Nairobi mall manager Lei Zhang could not make it back home to China for his annual Lunar New Year visit this time around.

But he and thousands of Chinese like him might have been a little less homesick at the weekend, thanks to a New Year’s Day gala co-hosted by the Kenya Overseas Chinese Association and the Kenya Chinese Women Association.

More than 3,000 performers, both Kenyan and Chinese, took part in Saturday’s event to ring in the Year of the Dragon – held at the mall just outside the Kenyan capital where Zhang works.

Attendees were treated to Chinese music, dragon dance and kung fu performances, as well as plays and cultural exhibitions, including a fashion show featuring the traditional qipao.

The hundreds of visitors also had the chance to try a range of traditional Chinese food.

Zhang came to Nairobi two years ago to work at the Two Rivers Mall, a shopping complex in the city’s diplomatic blue circle built as a joint venture between Kenya’s Centum Investment Co and Chinese firm Avic.

He said sampling food from different provinces helped him to reconnect with his home country. “Beijing is known for its Peking duck. Food from Sichuan and Hunan [provinces] is more hot and spicy,” he said. The cuisines of Guangdong and Hainan had lighter flavours, Zhang added, as “they don’t like the original flavours to be overwhelmed with lots of ingredients”.

Zhou Pingjian, the Chinese ambassador to Kenya, and Zainab Hawa Bangura, director general of the United Nations Office at Nairobi, were among the high-profile guests.

Zainab Hawa Bangura samples a drink as Zhou Pingjian (second left) looks on, at the Nairobi gala to ring in the Year of the Dragon. Photo: Xinhua

Infrastructure projects such as the 590km (367-mile) Mombasa-Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway – for which China advanced US$5 billion under its Belt and Road Initiative – and highways and bridges have brought a growing number of Chinese to the East African country. They take part in construction work or to run businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality industries.

Kenya is also a key destination for Chinese tourists looking to sample its safari circuit, especially at the Masai Mara national reserve, home to the “Big Five” – African elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo and rhinoceros.

Last week, Kenya welcomed some 200 Chinese tourists aboard the luxury cruise ship MSC Poesia. The passengers visited Kenya’s sandy beaches and wildlife sanctuaries as part of the Lunar New Year festivities, including Wasini Island and the coastal Tsavo East National Park.

“We have thousands of Chinese people here. We work far away from home and during the Chinese traditional holidays, we feel homesick,” Zhang said.

“This event makes us happy and feel at home … It is a good way to tell the Chinese story to the rest of the world.”

Lunar New Year has been made a part of the United Nations’ optional holidays calendar from this year, in response to an appeal by 12 countries including China, Vietnam, Singapore and Mauritius, the only African country where it is a holiday.

Dr Henry Rotich, chairman of the Kenya China Alumni Association, underscored the importance of the Lunar New Year in strengthening the bond of friendship between the two countries.

“Chinese are very strong in preserving their culture,” he said. “Kenyans can learn from them on how to preserve our culture and celebrate it whenever we are, in and out of the country.”

A visitor to Saturday’s event tries his hand at Chinese calligraphy. Photo: Xinhua

Student scholarships had also enriched the bilateral bond, according to Rotich, whose organisation represents Kenyans who studied in China. Many students had “come back with ideas and business opportunities to implement in Kenya, contributing to nation building”, he said.

Gao Wei, the chairman of the Kenya Overseas Chinese Association, said “very good” bilateral ties had drawn Chinese into the Kenyan construction and service industries. The Year of the Dragon is a lucky year that “will bring our people together and strengthen cooperation”, he said.

The Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival in China, is a cherished tradition celebrated by 20 countries involving one-fifth of the world’s population, Gao added.

Kenyan President William Ruto extended a message of goodwill to the Chinese people to mark the occasion, saying his administration would continue to support the Chinese business community to run their operations smoothly for the benefit of all.

“I also confirm to you that members of the Chinese community in Kenya receive the support they need to feel at home away from home, as they make their contribution to the transformative partnership between Kenya and China,” he said in a statement on Saturday.



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