Students perform during the traditional dance portion of the 2024 cultural gala.
Students perform during the traditional dance portion of the 2024 cultural gala

On March 7, 2024, the International University of East Africa (IUEA) became a vibrant tapestry of global cultures, hosting its annual Cultural Gala with unparalleled enthusiasm and splendour. This celebration of diversity, orchestrated by the IUEA Student Guild, transformed the university into a microcosm of the world, uniting students from over 54 nations in a kaleidoscopic display of heritage and unity. This blog takes you through the highlights of this fun cultural showcase bound to spark an appreciation for culture.

A troupe of Burundian students mesmerises the audience at the IUEA 2024 cultural gala.

Why have a Cultural Gala?

At its core, the Cultural Gala is not just an event; it’s a testament to IUEA’s commitment to fostering an inclusive community that revels in its diversity. Last year’s gala brandished the theme “the colours of diversity”, having incredible performances from 12 African countries. This year, we were proud to have 2 countries adding their amazing cultural offerings and flair to the exhibition namely; Sudan and Comoros. The gala therefore provides a means to highlight the ever growing cultures present at IUEA. We not only acknowledge the presence of all cultures but also value their contribution to the tapestry of African traditions.

Comoros proudly debuts at the cultural gala as students hoist their flag during the event’s second segment.

The 2024 theme, “Different but the same,” was a poignant message of unity amidst diversity. It encouraged us to admire the beauty in our differences while recognising the threads of commonality that bind us. This message resonated deeply, as evidenced by the intermingling of students from various nationalities, cheering and supporting one another in a heartwarming display of solidarity.

A stirring rendition of Sudan’s national anthem fills the air during the gala’s second segment, performed by a passionate student.

IUEA champions cultural heritage amidst globalisation, promoting the celebration of cultural diversity and the harmonious blend of tradition and modernity. Our events and environment encourage students to respect and integrate cultural traditions with modern advancements, enriching our global perspective.

Tanzanian students grace the runway with their presence during the fashion show segment.

This year’s gala featured a variety of unique categories that enabled students to utilise skills outside academia. The gala was a sensory feast, featuring an array of activities that transcended academic learning, from culinary delights and musical performances to fashion showcases and traditional dances. These segments not only celebrated cultural heritage but also highlighted the multifaceted talents of our students, enriching their university experience by encouraging them to cultivate skills outside the classroom.

Mr. Josephat, a software engineering student at IUEA, struts the runway during the fashion show segment of the event.

The gala was a vibrant educational experience, enriching attendees with a deep dive into African culture through a dynamic exchange of traditions. It encouraged students to explore and share their heritage while appreciating that of others, fostering respect and pride in the diverse cultural tapestry of our university community, and sparking creative inspiration.

The event reaches its climax with a mesmerising performance by a professional fire-breather.

Who attended the event?

The gala was honoured with the presence of Mr. Amos Masaba Wekesa, a distinguished figure in the business world and a beacon of entrepreneurial success. As the visionary founder and leader of  Great Lakes Safaris Limited, his presence underscored the values of ambition, creativity, and resilience that we seek to cultivate in our students. His journey from humble beginnings to becoming a luminary in the tourism sector served as a potent source of inspiration, especially for those in our Tourism and Hospitality program.

Mr. Amos Wekesa, our esteemed guest of honour, addresses the audience and performers during the event.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Great Lakes Safaris Limited, Mr. Wekesa shared his life story, a testament to his perseverance, humility, and unwavering passion for tourism and environmental conservation. These values resonate deeply with IUEA’s commitment to sustainability, as evidenced by our initiatives in recycling and clean energy, and are foundational to our Environmental Science and Management curriculum.

Prime Minister Stephen Kiyingi of the Tooro Kingdom delivers a speech alongside his wife.

The gala’s distinguished guests also included the Prime Minister of the Tooro Kingdom, Stephen Kiyingi, alongside his spouse. He attended on behalf of His Majesty Rukirabasaija Omukama Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV, who recently had the capital city premiere of his cinematic masterpiece at IUEA. The Prime Minister’s attendance added a regal dimension to the event’s celebration of cultural diversity, further enriching the experience for everyone involved.

Prime Minister Stephen Kiyingi of the Tooro Kingdom, accompanied by his wife, graces the event with his presence.

Ensuring fairness and expertise in the event’s proceedings, IUEA assembled a panel of impartial judges renowned for their accomplishments and insights across various fields. This esteemed panel included:

What transpired at this year’s gala?

This year’s Cultural Gala was a spectacular showcase of cultural pride and patriotism from start to finish. The air buzzed with excitement even before the official commencement, as early arrivals couldn’t resist capturing moments with their national flags against the gala’s beautifully crafted backdrop. This initial display of enthusiasm was merely a precursor to the heightened energy and passion that defined the rest of the event.

Eager IUEA students from Sudan capture a moment before the festivities begin.

As the gala unfolded, it transformed into a vibrant tapestry of cheers, traditional melodies, and the tantalising aromas of ethnic cuisines. The event was thoughtfully segmented into four main rounds – food, anthems, fashion, and dance – with students grouped by nationality in specially decorated tents. These spaces, adorned with national flags, served as preparation areas, further igniting the patriotic fervour of the participants.

The culinary competition kicked off the gala, with judges embarking on a flavourful journey through traditional dishes meticulously prepared by the students. Each tent offered a unique gastronomic experience, accompanied by narratives explaining the dishes’ ingredients and cultural significance. The culinary tour was a feast for the senses, featuring a diverse array of dishes, a few of which included:

  • Eritrea’s offering of Zigni, Tibsi, Dulet, Shiro, and Kitfo, is a testament to the country’s rich culinary traditions.
  • Nigeria’s vibrant selection of Jollof Rice, Egusi, Zobo, and Fufu, showcases the nation’s favourite flavours.
  • Uganda’s presentation of regional specialities like Atapa, Kwon Kal, Eboo/Boyoo, Potted Meat, and the beloved Matooke and Binyebwa, highlights the country’s diverse tribal cuisines.

The event then transitioned into a celebration of music and fashion, as participants performed national anthems and paraded in traditional attire. The anthems set the stage for a fashion show that displayed the intricate beauty and creativity of African dress, with participants donning colourful, ornately decorated outfits.

The highlight for many was the traditional dance segment, where the variety of performances ranged from high-energy routines to more subtle, expressive dances. The dancers, adorned in traditional costumes and accessories, brought the essence of their cultures to life, captivating the audience with their authenticity and enthusiasm.

This incredible display of cultural celebration transcended national boundaries, drawing participants and spectators alike into a shared experience of support and admiration. The audience’s engagement, marked by enthusiastic cheers and applause, mirrored the performers’ zeal, creating a memorable gala that celebrated the diversity and unity of the university’s global community.

Students’ dynamic dance electrifies the stage during the cultural gala’s dance segment.

The Winners of the 2024 Cultural Gala!

In an unprecedented move that celebrated the rich tapestry of cultures represented, this year’s IUEA Cultural Gala broke tradition by recognising winners along with the runner-ups in each category, a reflection of the poignant subtitle to this year’s theme, “Everyone is a Winner.” The array of winners from this year’s gala, across the diverse categories, were as follows:

  • In the category of “Anthem Harmony,” the winner was Uganda
  • In the category of “Modelling Excellence,”  the winner was Uganda
  • In the category of “Cultural Fusion,” the winner was Uganda
  • In the category of “Best Culinary Delight,” the winner was Somalia
A Somali student, overjoyed, receives an award for Best Culinary Delight on behalf of the IUEA Somali student community.
  • In the category of “People’s Choice,” the winner was Sudan
  • In the category of “Global Ambassador,” the winner was Somalia 
  • In the category of “Fashion Icon,” the winner was Somalia
  • In the category of “Best Cultural Dance,” the winners were Democratic Republic of Congo and Comoros
Students from the Democratic Republic of Congo put on an exuberant display of national pride at the gala.

As we reflect on the success of the 2024 Cultural Gala, we are reminded of the power of culture to unite us. This event is more than a celebration; it’s a vibrant declaration of our shared humanity and the strength found in our diversity. At IUEA, we are not just preparing academic achievers; we are nurturing global citizens who appreciate the richness of our diverse world.

Comoros celebrates a well-deserved recognition from the judges, Head of Marketing, and Students’ Guild president following their triumphant performance at the event.

As we anticipate next year’s gala, we are excited to welcome even more cultures and stories into our IUEA family. The Cultural Gala is not just an event in our academic calendar; it’s a cornerstone of our commitment to global unity and understanding. Here’s to more years of celebrating our differences and discovering that, indeed, we are different but the same.

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