The ‘Ghana Job’: Opening Semiperipheral Hungary to the Postcolonial World

The Hungarian government delegation to West Africa led by Gyula Kállay returns back to Budapest, in the back is József Bognár. Film still from “Four Weeks in Africa” (Négy hét Afrikában) government-commissioned documentary movie about the trip (dir. István Knoll, 1963).

This paper follows a world-systemic and decolonial approach to investigate Hungarian semiperipheral positioning strategies in global colonial history by looking at the interactions and converging interests of Hungary and Ghana in the early 1960s. The paper focuses on József Bognár, a hugely important but forgotten political figure in socialist era Hungarian economics and foreign economic policy-making. In 1963, Bognár founded a government think tank, the Centre for AfroAsian Research (CAAR) at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (renamed in 1973 as the Institute for World Economy). The institute evolved out of Bognár’s “Ghana job”: Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, on the occasion of his Eastern European round-trip in 1961, asked Bognár to develop Ghana’s First Seven-Year Plan. This was followed by various foreign policy deals and assignments, including the monetary expert János Fekete’s secret advisory mission. Bognár’s associates, including Tamás Szentes, assisted in preparations for the West African diplomatic delegation led by Gyula Kállay in December 1962, which was displayed in the 1963 documentary movie “Four weeks in Africa”. Nkrumah’s pan-Africanist, African socialist and Non-Aligned path made Ghana into a vibrant transnational hub of planning experts and a contested “development laboratory”, where Hungary and Ghana both sought to lever Western economic dependency during Cold War détente. The paper explores how this Ghanaian experience enabled Hungarian entrance into postcolonial export markets and development consultancy assignments (both previously dominated by Western imperialists), and how it influenced an export-oriented focus in the Hungarian economic reformist movement of the New Economic Mechanism (1968).

Paper to be presented at the 12th VIVA AFRICA International Conference on African Studies entitled “Africa and (the Other) Europe: Imageries – Discourses – Exchanges” at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, 14–17th September.

The Twelfth VIVA AFRICA conference invites participants to engage in a discussion of mutual encounters, inventions, constructions and relations of all kinds taking place between Africa and Europe, in the past, present and future. One of the aims is to give more nuance to the postcolonial debate that tends to use reified notions of ‘Europe’ as simply part of the ‘West’ or the ‘global North’, forgetting about ongoing, if more subtle, developments between European countries ‘without colonies’ and the African continent. The conference seeks to shed light on the nature of the exchange of ideas, knowledge, goods, cultural artifacts and people under various political and economic circumstances and regimes of imagination and knowledge production between Africa and Europe.

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