Uganda’s Second Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja and Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati have called for a closer relationship between Bungoma County and Eastern Uganda, saying the two regions have more than just a shard border.
Speaking as he opened the first Cross-Border (Cultural/Tourism) Expo between Bungoma and Eastern Uganda at The Tourist Hotel in Bungoma, the Ugandan premier said the event was a turning point to actualise the integration of the East Africa Community.
This is the clearest intention to bring a people otherwise divided by colonial demarcations together,” Kivenjinja said, adding that a bigger East Africa will create room enough for everybody.
Kivejinja said the Ugandan Government will invest more in boosting trade between communities on either side of the shared border.
He called on the two regions to collaborate in finding common solutions to their shared problems and look within for growth.
Earlier, Wangamati had called on the two neighbours to take advantage of their location to grow business between them.
He especially recognized Uganda as Kenya’s second biggest and most important export market.
“As a County, we have no choice but to find a way for closer cooperation with Uganda,” he said.
The Governor particularly lauded the Cross-Border Cultural Expo as the first and critical step towards integration of the East African Community.
Drawing from their proximity and shared culture including common language, Wangamati said the two regions are in fact the best ambassadors for the integration of the East African Community.
While commending the Expo, Wangamati called on the two regions to promote other sectors of the economy.
As a follow up to this call, Governor Wangamati revealed that they had reached an agreement with Uganda to hold the East African AgriBusiness Expo in Bungoma on a date yet to be decided.
The Governor challenged the Ugandan Government to take queue from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s move to lift visa requirements for East Africans seeking to gain access to Kenya.
“To ease movement of our people across the borders, we ask that Uganda also follows suit to lift visa requirements for Kenyans seeking to travel to Uganda,” Wangamati implored uganda’s Second Deputy Prime Minister.
Uganda’s Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Minister Godfrey Ssubi challenged the two regions to be champions of regional integration generally and cultural exchange specifically.
“As a region, our biggest tourist product is our rich and diverse culture,” Hon Ssuubi said, adding that only then do we as a people have the knowledge with which to market our offering to other parts of the world.
Ugandan High Commissioner to Kenya Phibby Awere Otaala said through the joint expo, Bungoma County and Eastern Uganda would discuss cross border relations and other issues of mutual interest and explore areas of possible partnership in trade and culture.
“This conference would go a long way in catalysing trade and investment and promoting social cultural interactions between the two regions,” Otaala said.
Echoing her sentiments, Prof Ngome acknowledged that it was about time Eastern Uganda and Bungoma forged a relationship around trade and socio-cultural exchange.
“A cross border conference presents a great opportunity to the citizens of both regions socially and economically, said Prof Ngome, adding that in fact the fair should not be a one-time event but rather an annual one.
Also in attendance was Kanduyi MP Hon Wafula Wamunyinyi and Kimilili MCA Hon David Barasa. Others were CECs from Bungoma and Kakamega, Chief Officers, and cultural leaders from different communities on either side of the border.
Bungoma County is seeking to reap big from its strategic location as a gateway to Uganda and into other Eastern and Central Africa countries including Rwanda, Burundi and Southern Sudan.
The County enjoys two shared (gazetted) border points with Uganda through Lwakhakha and Chepkube. Malaba in Busia is only 43km from the Central Business District. Its vantage position in the region makes it ideal for cross-border trade with Uganda and other countries on the Northern Corridor.