Rebuilding Hungary – Ghana bilateral relations

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In October 2016, the government of Hungary in an official event held in Accra reopened its diplomatic mission in Ghana after a 30-year closure. The closure of the Hungarian embassy in 1987 followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and a shift in the country’s foreign policy towards a focus on European integration.

Lauding the move by the government of Hungary, the then Ghanaian Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Minister, Hanna Tetteh, on behalf of the government of Ghana expressed her optimism of a stronger relation between both countries at the highest level for mutual benefit and also assured the Hungarian team of the Ghana government’s support at all times.

As a student of International Relations, the reopening of the Hungarian embassy in Ghana remains a welcoming news and also marked the dawn of a new beginning in the bilateral relations between Ghana and Hungary.

Ghanaian entrepreneurs and businesses seeking to build international partnerships with companies in Hungary will no longer have to travel to Nigeria to engage with the Hungarian embassy in that country. Also, Hungarians residing in Ghana now have a direct mission to deal with for their processes and other forms of support they might require at any point in time.

It was a thought-provoking session when I met with the Hungarian Ambassador to Ghana, His Excellency Andras Szabo at the Hungarian embassy located at Cantonment, Accra. My conversation with the career diplomat centered on his journey into the world of diplomacy, family life and spearheading the activities of the Hungarian embassy in Ghana.

Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. Its capital, Budapest, is bisected by the Danube River and its cityscape is studded with architectural landmarks from Buda’s medieval Castle Hill and grand neoclassical buildings along Pest’s Andrássy Avenue to the 19th-century Chain Bridge. Turkish and Roman influence on Hungarian culture is noticed through the popularity of mineral spas with thermal Lake Hévíz being a typical example.

Speaking about his diplomatic career, Ambassador Szabo said, “I am an economist by training and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs right after my graduation from the university my first mission as a diplomat was in Iran where I served as the Economic Counsellor. From there, I moved on to become the Deputy Head of the Hungarian mission in Morocco.

"In 2014, I was reassigned and moved back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade where I was tasked to set up the new Africa Department. At the period, the focus of the ministry was Trade which had been established within our foreign policy and bilateral relations with some countries”.

After two years of growing the Africa Department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hungarian government decided to reopen three of its missions in Africa. As the head of the department, he was asked to head one of those embassies and the Ministry settled on Ghana.

“At the point, the foreign policy had changed and we had switched out focus to more trade and business instead of classical diplomacy. Reopening the embassy in Ghana was a rather tough task but possible and for me, it was a great honour to be given that opportunity. 

"We felt like we were coming home as there are a lot of Ghanaians highly placed in society who had studied in Hungary and are back in Ghana at the moment. For us, we see this as coming to our family and together work towards achieving a lot of things for both Ghana and Hungary through our diplomatic relationship”, he added.    

Highlighting the areas of partnership and collaboration between Ghana and Hungary, the Ambassador indicated that the embassy will heavily rely on their alumni grouping in Ghana to introduce Hungarian companies from various sectors into the West African market with Ghana serving as the gateway. According to him, it will include pharmaceutical companies as well as companies with medicinal related products looking to expand their reach and base.

He also listed education as a priority area of focus for direct and indirect investment by the government of Hungary.

“As part of the bilateral relations, the Hungarian government has decided to give scholarships to fifty Ghanaians to study in Hungary every year. We are currently in the second year and it is open to all Ghanaians. In the first year, we advertise it in the dailies and we had almost two thousand applications out of which nine hundred were selected based on the set criteria. 

"The list was then passed on to the Ghana scholarship secretariat and they selected the fifty students. It will be the same procedure for this year and in subsequent years. It is fully funded for all levels of education and the students are given their stipends to help them go through the studies”.

The general promotion of commerce and exchange of skill is at the core of the Hungarian government’s agenda for Africa and poised to introduce key initiatives in the areas of Agriculture, Information Communication Technology (ICT), Water Management, Waste Management, Renewable Energy and Sports. These sectors will receive a level of investment through key strategic projects for mutual benefits for both Ghanaian and Hungarian companies.

“I believe we need to look at the very fundamentals and for sports development, for example, we are going to focus on all its dynamics and complexities. So we are talking about all that has to be in place from the facilities, good trainers, right talent programmes and the capacity to organise sports events –  regional, national and international events. 

"We are offering a package starting from the purely professional line and linking up the federations and we have achieved some considerable success in that area. They will start with the professional corporation which will lead to other things to include the supply of equipment”, Ambassador Szabo said.      

In March 2017, the embassy organised the Hungarian cultural week which included various activities to showcase different sectors of interest. It was climaxed with a musical concert headlined by one of the famous and biggest musicians in Hungary, and of Ghanaian origin, Sena Dagadu.

On the prospect of the Ghana – Hungry relationship, Ambassador Szabo concluded that “in the area of creative arts, the embassy is looking at organising festivals and large scale event for all classes of people going forward to create the needed platform for cultural exchanges in diverse forms. 

"These and more are the things we want to do in all other areas to ensure the opportunities in both countries are tapped and utilised to maximum benefits. That is what we represent and seeks to achieve with our relationship with the government and people of Ghana”.