Leader of defiant Hungary tours Africa’s better democracies

Hungarian President János Áder

Hungarian President János Áder signs the visitors’ book after arriving in Kenya on January 16, 2022 for a four-day state visit. He will hold bilateral talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Photo credit: MFA

Visiting Hungarian President János Áder is considered a ceremonial head back in his country. But that could suit his lobbying for better ties abroad.

As a parliamentary system, Hungary bestows most of the executive powers in the Prime Minister, currently Viktor Orbán.

Yet that makes the Hungarian president a more amenable leader with less political baggage.

State House in Nairobi says he will be visiting Kenya on a four-day state visit, the longest yet by a European leader on Kenyan soil.

“The Hungarian president, accompanied by First Lady Anita Herczegh, will be officially received by their hosts President Uhuru Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi on Monday, 17th January 2022,” a tentative programme issued by State House on Friday indicated.

“Kenya and Hungary enjoy warm and strong bilateral ties dating back to 1964 when Hungary established an Embassy in Nairobi.”

Hungary is not always in Kenyan news for pushing democracy or human rights or donating masks. But they have been here as long as their country has existed. One of Kenya’s famous surgeons, Dr Imre Loefler, who died in 2007, was originally Hungarian.

Aid

And they have been sending aid in various fields here including agriculture. In 2019, they agreed to a $50 million aid programme to support healthcare, improve food production as well as help improve irrigation projects.

But Hungary itself has stood its ground when it comes to international politics. A member of the European Union since 2004, it is one of the eight countries of the bloc who have refused to use the Euro. Denmark, Croatia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Sweden are the other seven.

János Áder’s visit comes on the same year he is supposed to end his two-year term in office. As a ceremonial leader, he may probably not sign on any bilateral agreements yet. His powers are restricted to vetoing a parliamentary law or ask the courts to review a policy. But he is a figurehead who represents his country too.

Controversial policies

In Africa, he is visiting Ghana and Kenya, some of the continent’s relatively stable democracies. His country has come under fire for passing controversial policies on immigration and sexual rights. For most of that, it is the prime minister who has batted away criticisms. The EU bloc has responded by filtering funds due to Budapest.

Then there is China.

Hungary is one of the few European countries who have cemented ties with China. It is one of the few European countries that have used Chinese Covid-19 vaccines and has planned a university fully funded by the Chinese. Last year, a controversial mayor irked the government after renaming some Budapest streets near the planned university area with names that were targeting China such as Dalai Lama Road, Free Hong Kong Road, Road of Uyghur Martyrs and Bishop Xie Shiguang Road, referring to issues the EU has been critical of China.

China’s strong ties with Hungary may mimic how Beijing has grown its influence in Africa. But it also means the EU cannot have a common stand on Beijing.

On his African trip, the Hungarian leader has so far said his country has similar objectives with Africans: building democracies that respect rule of law and human rights, improving trade and security as well as tackling common emerging problems.

During talks with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, where he became the first Hungarian leader to visit Accra since 1989, he said his country has “turned their back on an authoritarian past and built democratic governments with respect for the rule of law and human rights”. A dispatch from his office said they had agreed to improve trade, cooperate in medical fields and conservation of the environment.

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