The Ghana Job: Opening Socialist Hungary to the “Developing World”


17 April 5:30 PM

Rutgers_University_with_the_state_university_logo.svgSeminar Room
Department of Sociology
Rutgers University
26 Nichol Ave
New Brunswick, NJ 08901

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Why was Hungary interested in the decolonized “developing world”? What does this episode of Eastern European history tell us about shared postcolonialities, transnational interconnectivity, and semiperipheral positioning or development strategies? My talk introduces why and how socialist Hungary decided to develop foreign economic relations with decolonized countries, which in turn facilitated a new orientation towards the world and the emergence of Hungarian development expertise towards developing countries.

My study investigates the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (CAAR) founded at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1963 (in 1973 renamed as the Institute for World Economy, IWE) parallel to similar institutions founded internationally at that time. CAAR was established as a government think tank by József Bognár, who was a close friend to Prime Minister János Kádár and a hugely important figure in socialist era Hungarian reform economics and foreign economic policy-making. The associates of CAAR and IWE promoted export-oriented growth and fabricated new geographical development concepts as alternatives to the dichotomous Cold War categories of “capitalist” and “socialist” worlds in order to reposition Hungary in the world economy. The institute evolved out of the “Ghana job”: during his Eastern European round-trip president Kwame Nkrumah asked Bognár and his team of economists to develop the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana in 1962.

During the Nkrumah period, the pan-Africanist, African socialist and Non-Aligned country of Ghana became a transnational hub of various experts and intellectuals, and a contested site not only of conflicting and intertwined “socialist” and “capitalist” views on development, but also of intensive cooperation and competition between Eastern Bloc countries in asserting their influence in the decolonized world. With Bognár’s assignment, the issue of “poorly developed countries” ignited the comparative reconceptualization of development histories in Hungary and led to exporting the Hungarian development model to the “Third World” based on the discourse of anti-imperialism, socialist solidarity and shared postcolonial histories.

In this context, I interpret the “Ghana job” from a postcolonial and world-systemic perspective as situated in a complex web of transnational relations, and point out Ghana’s decisive role in opening semiperipheral Hungary towards the global periphery during the 1960s by generating a field of development expertise, which enabled entrance into a new market of transnational development consultancy.

Download flyer (.pdf).


“Magyarország 1962 óta számos mérnököt, orvost és gyógyszerészt képzett Ghánának”

A jelent meg még februárban egy hír a Magyarországra érkező ghánai hallgatókról, amelyben visszaemlékeztek az 1960-as évekbeli magyar-ghánai kapcsolatokra.

“Megemlékeztek róla, hogy Magyarország 1962 óta számos mérnököt, orvost és gyógyszerészt képzett Ghánának.

Szerinte az első ghánai elnök, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah is Magyarországon tanult, de volt a ghánai fociválogatottnak is magyar szövetségi kapitánya.”

Az 1950-es évek globális nézőpontból: Magyarország és a dekolonizáció


A Szabad Október Fesztiválon adok elő a Gólyában október 28-án (vasárnap) a 16:00-kor kezdődő, Helyzet Műhely által összeállított blokkban. Az előadás a következőkről fog szólni:

Az 1956-os forradalom traumatizált olvasatában a diktatúrával szembeni ellenállás és a demokratizálódás visszavetítése uralkodik. Ezzel a szűk értelmezéssel szemben érdemes 1956-ot globális történeti perspektívából megközelíteni. Az 1950-es évek a második világháború utáni globális hatalmi átrendeződés erőszakhullámainak, a délkelet-ázsiai és afrikai gyarmati függetlenségi harcoknak a csúcspontja is volt. 1956 egyben a hruscsovi külpolitikai nyitás éve is, amely nyomán Magyarország fokozatosan az export-orientált fejlődési stratégia lehetőségeit kereste a “harmadik világban”. Az 1957-re felszabaduló Ghána esete jól megvilágítja Magyarország és a felszabaduló gyarmatok között kialakuló kapcsolatok körülményeit. Vajon a rendszerváltás óta miért fordultunk el a világgazdaságba ágyazott történetünktől és a globális perifériával való párhuzamok vagy szolidaritás gondolatától?

The first All-African Peoples’ Conference on 5-13 December 1958 in Accra

You can read about the event and all later conferences on wikipedia.

“The ‘All-African Peoples Conference’ (AAPC) was partly a corollary and partly a different perspective to the modern Africa states represented by the Conference of Heads of independent Africa States. The ‘All-Africa Peoples Conference’ was conceived to include social groups, including ethnic communities and anti-colonial political parties and African organizations such as Labor Unions and other significant associations in the late 1950s and early 1960s both in Africa and the Diaspora such as Europe, North America and South America.

The first conference was preceded by a Preparatory Committee composed of representatives from the eight independent African states—other than South Africa. (They were EthiopiaGhanaGuineaLiberiaLibyaMoroccoTunisia, and the United Arab Republic.) The conference itself was attended by delegates from 28 African countries and colonies. The number of delegates was more than 300, and the conference claimed that they represented more than 200 million people from all parts of Africa. Tom Mboya, General Secretary of the Kenya Federation of Labour, was elected chairman.

One important discussion was over the legitimacy and desirability of using violence against the colonial powers. It was agreed that violence would be necessary in some cases. Concerning the struggle in Algeria, full support was given to the recently proclaimed Provisional Republican Government (Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne—GPRA). On the Cameroon, the Conference supported the fight of the UPC maquis, demanding full amnesty and UN-sponsored elections. The Conference considered unity and solidarity to be key strategies in the fight against colonialism and economic domination after colonialism; it called for the establishment of Africa-wide organisations, including trade unions youth groups, and a Bureau of Liberatory Movements. It was at this meeting that the decision was made to establish a permanent secretariat at Accra. The first secretary-general was George Padmore, then living in Ghana. The following year, he died and was replaced by Guinea’s Resident Minister in Ghana, Abdoulaye Diallo.”


Two new abstracts sent to ICHG2018 and AAG2018

My latest plan is to send two abstracts to the 17th International Conference of Historical Geographers in Warsaw, July 15-20 and one – the latter abstract here provided – to the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in New Orleans, April 10-14 in 2018. In the first case, the first abstract will hopefully be part of the following session:


Global Histories of Geography 19301990

Convenors: Ruth Craggs (King’s College London) and Hannah Neate (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Reflecting on the key centres associated with the emergence of geography as a spatial science in the 1960s Barnes (2002, 508) remarked: “Why are places in Africa not on there, or Asia, or Australasia?” thereby highlighting significant gaps in disciplinary histories and accounts of geography’s development in the second half of the twentieth century. By way of response, this session aims to highlight work into the ‘global’ histories of geography in the period 1930-1990, a period marked by geopolitical transitions including WWII, decolonization and the end of the Cold War.  We are looking to make links with scholars who are carrying out research on the history and practice of geography, specifically in submissions that explore scholarly communities of geographers whose contribution to the development of geography in the twentieth century often goes unrecognised in the ‘canon’ of geographical research.

Possible themes for papers:

  • Papers focusing on geographers from the global South, Indigenous geographers in settler states, Asian geographies and geographers, geographers from the former Eastern Block
  • Biographies of individuals or groupings of geographers
  • Accounts that highlight how geography was being pursued in other ‘centres’
  • The role and development of national and international disciplinary associations and networks
  • Geographical knowledge, expertise and intersections with decolonization and the end of the Cold War


Historical geographies of the “quantitative revolution”: Towards a transnational history of central place theory

Geography’s “quantitative revolution” has been a true textbook chronicle in the discipline’s canonical history. However, historical research has only recently seriously begun to unravel the geographical contexts of its emergence, which is complicated by the simplified narratives that emerged in critical revisionism from the 1970s. This paper offers an interpretative framework from the perspective of the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), by focusing on Christaller’s central place theory (CPT) to deconstruct the common Anglo-American narrative, arguing that it has concealed other contexts in the “Second” and “Third” worlds. Early applications (especially in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Israel) and the wider European discourse of “central places” call for a reevaluation of the canonized narratives of CPT. The globalization of CPT is interpreted through the rising American hegemony in the early Cold War era, which led to the Americanization of German location theories in modernization theory discourse. Networks behind the American, British and Canadian centres show the importance of European locations, such as the Swedish hub in Lund, and the “planning laboratories” of Asian, South American and African contexts after decolonization. Soviet and Eastern Bloc reformism and the institutionalization of regional planning from the late 1950s summoned CPT in the service of centralized state planning, and ignited debates of adaptability between “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts. By reflecting on some of these cases, this paper argues for a transnational history of CPT by readdressing issues of narrativity and historical periodization, and shows the need for provincializing and decolonizing dominant Anglo-American geographical knowledge production.


“The Ghana job”: Opening Hungary to the developing world

Based on interviews, archival and media sources, this paper looks at how post-WWII socialist Hungary developed foreign economic relations with decolonized countries, by focusing on the emergence of Hungarian development and area studies and development advocacy expertise towards developing countries. The paper’s case study is the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (CAAR) founded at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1963 – from 1973 the Institute for World Economy (IWE) – parallel to similar institutions founded in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc states. CAAR was established as a government think tank by József Bognár, a close friend to Prime Minister János Kádár and perhaps one of the most important figures in socialist era Hungarian reform economics and foreign policy-making. The institute rose as a consequence of the “Ghana job”: Hungarian economists led by Bognár developed the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana in 1962. The associates of CAAR and IWE promoted export-oriented growth against import-substitution industrialization and summoned geographical development concepts such as “poorly developed countries”, “dependency”, “semiperiphery”, “open economies”, or “small countries” as alternatives to the Cold War categories of “capitalist” and “socialist” world systems. This shift in geographical knowledge production is connected to the geopolitical contexts of the Sino-Soviet split, the Khrushchevian “opening up” of foreign relations, the emergence of the “Third World”, and also the 1956 revolution in the case of Hungary. The role of Ghana and the Eastern Bloc is connected to the 1960s wave of transnational development consultancy and strategies of “socialist globalization”.

Hungary and Ghana, 1950s-1960s

21083554_1409636279072924_5180471301300472123_oMy research report to the Open Society Archives turned out to be a draft of a lengthy working paper that summarizes some of the materials I have been working with. You can read about my OSA research proposal here.

Even from this vastly text I had to leave out a lot of other materials. Unfortunately I will only have time to work again on this later, so I decided to share here some thoughts that could not be included.

One of the books that were very influential to me (but haven’t included into the draft) gave me a great overview of the early Eastern European relations towards decolonizing/ed Africa (the “Third World”). What I find most interesting is not only the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc in developing their foreign relations, but also the continuities between previous colonial era and postcolonial relations. Another issue is the role of China, not only how the Sino-Soviet split influenced the Soviet Union to maintain the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc, but also China’s early postcolonial trajectories in gaining a foothold in Africa.


“By 1958, well before substantial new opportunities arose south of the Sahara, East Europe’s trade with Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa was already greater than that of the Soviet Union; ithad more than doubled since 1954 and amounted to approximately five per cent of the area’s total trade. Some of this commercial activity, of course, was no more than a partial return to normal trade patterns that had been interrupted by the war and later inhibited for political and ideological reasons. Yet the very fact that old patterns existed and could be resumed was important, since the arrival of East European traders and governmental representatives in Africa did not appear to the new states as a novel or menacing overture, but rather as a natural resumption of established policies.”

— Robert and Elizabeth Bass: Eastern Europe, in: Zbigniew Brzezinski: Africa and the Communist World, Hoover Institution, 1963, p. 88.

Hungarian development experts worked on the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana

20993964_1407344005968818_1387830529126103512_nA magyar közgazdász delegáció megérkezése Accrába 1962-ben, hogy kidolgozzák Ghána hétéves tervét. Balról jobbra: Bácskai Tamás (Bognár asszisztense, egyetemi docens), Kós Péter (nagykövet), Kwame Nkrumah (a Ghánai Köztársaság elnöke), Bognár József (főtanácsadó), Székely Gábor (Bognár asszisztense, mérnökközgazdász).

The Hungarian delegation of economists arrive in Accra to develop Ghana’s First Seven-Year Plan in 1962. From left to right: Tamás Bácskai (Bognár’s assistant, associate professor), Péter Kós (first ambassador), Kwame Nkrumah (President of the Republic of Ghana), József Bognár (chief advisor), Gábor Székely (Bognár’s assistant, economic engineer).

Magyar Hírek, 1962. május 1.