Entebbe — As the rays of the rising sun shined on the calm waters of Lake Victoria, Africa's largest fresh water body, teams made final preparations to compete in a race never held before in eastern Africa, the Dragon Boat Festival.
Several teams, with members that included locals and staff members of Chinese companies, participated in the event organized by the Uganda government, the Chinese embassy, and China Africa Friendship Association Uganda.
The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most popular Chinese water sports and cultural events dating back hundreds of years.
The festival is a traditional holiday that commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan who committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in 278 BC upon hearing the news that the Qin State had conquered the capital of Chu.
This is the second time the festival is being held in Africa after the first one was held in Egypt last year on the River Nile.
As the participants battled on the calm Lake Victoria waters, on the shores here at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, an animal and bird sanctuary, it was glamour and pomp as families and other revelers feasted on Chinese and local dishes.
In the background, there was a fusion of Chinese and local music. The live music performances were a highlight as revelers, Chinese and locals, took off time to visit the different animals including lions, cheetahs, and giraffes at the sanctuary.
Ugandan Vice President Edward Ssekandi was the chief guest at the event that attracted multitudes of people.
"I'm sure this Dragon Boat Festival will be an avenue of making Ugandans and Chinese live more happily together and cooperate better," the vice president said.
Chinese ambassador to Uganda, Zheng Zhuqiang, days before the event, described the festival as critical in promoting cultural exchange between the two countries.
Godfrey Kiwanda, Uganda's minister of state for tourism, said the festival would be added on the country's tourism annual calendar in a bid to attract Chinese tourists to Uganda.
He said it is an important event where the culture of the two peoples can be appreciated.
Miller Zhang, head of a visiting team from Wuhan, a Chinese city, said the festival is important in deepening the cultural ties.
"With this game, we feel the ties between China and Uganda grow stronger and we believe with more competitions held in Uganda, China can see more opportunity to communicate with local people and we can see a boost in Uganda's economy," Zhang said.
These cultural interactions are some of the key steps that the two sides, Africa and China, hope to build on to strengthen their partnership.
Over the years both sides have increased cultural exchanges and cooperation.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, while meeting African leaders at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in South Africa in 2015, promised to provide assistance in building five cultural centers for Africa.