Five Western Kenya governors have struck a deal to share trade, agricultural and tourism resources in a move that appears to pull the rug from under the much-touted Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB).
Patrick Khaemba (Trans Nzoia), Wilber Ottichilo (Vihiga), Wycliffe Oparanya (Kakamega) and Sospeter Ojaamong (Busia), said they had opted to tackle common challenges like underperforming saccos and collapse of key agricultural industries.
The county chiefs spoke in Bungoma where governor Wycliffe Wangamati hosted them for a dinner last Friday.
Mr Oparanya said the shared resources would first be used to revive sugar cane and maize farming.
“We have analysed our economy and noticed that we depend so much on maize and sugar cane. But as you know sugar cane farming has really gone down. And maize farming is currently on its deathbed. We are looking into addressing these issues,” he said.
Mr Oparanya also heads the regional bloc that comprises Bomet, Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kericho, Kisii, Kisumu, Migori, Nandi, Nyamira, Siaya, Trans Nzoia and Vihiga.
The five-county partnership is seen as a result of growing frustration with the slow pace of making key decisions within the 14-county member LREB.
The counties, which have been negotiating for close to six years, are yet to agree on a legal framework for co-operation even as they push on with a plan to set up a regional bank.
Mr Oparanya said the five governors had been holding talks with stakeholders in the sugar and maize sector to make the crops economically viable.
“We don’t want to look into so many issues at the moment and lose the objective. We are now focusing on these two but others will come up later,” he said.
Mr Wangamati said there was a need for the counties to harmonise levies and eliminate double taxation to spur development in the region.
“If, for example, you operate a matatu between Bungoma and Kakamega and pay for a sticker, you should not be charged for that sticker again after paying for it in any of the counties,” he said.
Mr Ottichilo said they had agreed to take the lead in initiating projects in the region.
“As governors, we have decided that we are going to take the lead. As the key executive officers of the five counties, we want to take the lead focused on development,” he said.
Mr Ojaamong reiterated the need for the counties to share resources.
“We want to share our resources. Let people in Busia not starve when there is maize in Trans Nzoia. We have so many silos in this region we can use to store our food,” he said.
Mr Khaemba urged other elected leaders in the region to come on board and support their programmes.
“Mine is just to ask our MPs, senators, MCAs and other like-minded leaders to join us and share their ideas with us on how we can transform this great region,” he said.
On Friday, Mr Oparanya urged member counties of the regional bloc to move with speed and pass the Lake Region Economic Bloc Bill 2018.