Hungary and Ghana: What do Their 1960s Forgotten Relations Tell Us about the ‘Southern Opening’ After 2015?

My paper for the international conference “Visegrad countries and Africa: History and Contemporaneity” held online on 27 April 2022. The event was organized by the Jagellonian Research Center for Africa Studies, the Africa Research Institute at Óbuda University, and the Centre for Military Studies at Stellenbosch University. I’ve presented this topic a dozen times since 2016 as my research developed, the results of which will be part of a journal article and our book for Cambridge University Press. This is just a short overview. I also touch upon our work in the Prime Minister Ferenc Nagy Research Group (Nagy Ferenc Miniszterelnök Kutatócsoport).

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 Afro-Asian 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. Based on Hungarian and Ghanaian archival sources and Hungarian oral history, this 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). In conclusion, the paper will put this history in perspective by looking at the structural and discursive similarities between the 1960s and present: the global political economic dynamics behind the “Southern Opening” (2015) foreign policy strategy, the re-establishment of the Hungarian Embassy in Accra, Ghana (2016) and the Ghanaian visit of President of Hungary János Áder.