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But we are not interested in telling anybody how to develop their countries. We are
trying to concentrate mainly on the schools and studies because we believe this
is the base in which a country could develop their own economy.
African Hungarian Union to Promote African Issues
Interviw by Hakeem Babalola
I recently spoke with the African Hungarian Union president, Balogh Sándor, who said his union was formed to help promote African issues both in Hungary and in Africa.Hakeem
Why African Hungarian Union?
Yes…so… the African Hungarian Union [AHU] was established in August 2006. At that time we were trying with Omotunde Komolafe to organise a programme based on his ideas for Africans living in Hungary in the middle of the summer to move out from Budapest to see the countryside of Hungary. And for many Africans and experts in African things and fans of Africa to gather in Szerencs which is around 200 km from Budapest. We were talking, discussing with ambassadors and ordinary people from Hungary and Africa. The feeling was great hence we decided to form a union that would be in one direction. To help each other and not to fight or be jealous of each other. So this is what AHU should be or we wanted it to be. We want it to be an umbrella organisation that will join other organisations (foundations, unions, friends of Africa) together. To turn their wishes in one direction that could help the African continent.
Are you in the right path? Are you following that path?
We dont know which is the right path. The right path is to collect the wishes of Africans and collect all the things which could help the African issues like issuing books, sponsoring events and schools or kindergartens or to buy computers for schools. Any small or big projects that could help Africa. But unfortunately all the organisations involved in African issues are not moving in one direction. They move in zigzag. And this is why there is no result. For many years there have been a lot of organisations like this that wanted to help their own people, country, nation; but they could not because there is no such an organisation to turn things in good direction. I really do not know whether we are in the right path or not.
Firstly we wanted to be known because if you are unknown, nobody will turn to you for help or to bring help or to focus on any project. So the first year we were focusing our activities on being known. This means that we were trying to be at many events. For example, we were in the organising committee of the Africa Day and African nations in Hungary; distributing leaflets; sponsoring any demands that come our way. Furthermore, we have been sponsoring a girl going to Congo to search for the bonobos in the jungle. We have also been sponsoring InterAfrik Footbal Club monthly so they could have financial basement or security for their activities in order to win their matches. So from the bonobos to the football we were helping anybody who turned to us. And we were trying to look for possibilities where to show ourselves. And to sponsor for example books about Africa. We have been translating two African books. So we dont know if we are in the right place now but I think the direction is good and the result has already started coming . . .
What is this result?
The result that we are known. We are among the most known organisations around African issues. We are the partner of all the embassies, consulates of African countries in Budapest and we can be named as a partner with even not only the high society but all the people of African society here. Of course probably we are not known by everybody who is around the African things or the African policy but I think we are the most well known for African issues.
Is the AHU a business or charity organisation?
There is no business in the AHU. Only charity. We have no income. We make no business activity and we plan not to do so. We plan to be an organisation which collects all the things around Africa. Our website http://www.ahu.hu/ also wants to be an entering gate for African things. We are building it systematically to help things about all African countries, all embassies, all data. We refresh daily the news about African things. Of course we could do more but our financial possibilities are not so big that we could sponsor all our programmes even ourselves, the website, the technical things, so we are trying to make step forward in a big surface. May be it would be better to just choose one project and push it forward in order to help anybody that turns to us.
Do you help only Africans or Hungarians as well?
No Hungarians. Only Africans we are trying to sponsor. Africans in Hungary or in Africa. Of course we cannot sponsor anybody and everybody but now until as much demand we got we sponsored all of the demands. We did not choose. We have no choice. We tried to give money or to help everybody that turn to us.
I am sure you or the AHU is not a father Christmas. How do you generate funds?
Yes of course I am not a father Christmas. I am not even Santa Claus. But you know when we met firstly with Mr. Omotunde we decided as I mentioned many times in this interview, to collect all directives . . . all independent movements under our umbrella. Firstly, what could be our revenue . . . what could be our recovery?
It could be as I mentioned, leading the other African movements in Hungary to get at least some state money and to push it down to all the other societies because they themselves independently have not enough power to turn to the state, to turn to the companies, to turn to the financial circles of the country to collect money.
We collect the forces under us and we start communicating in one voice and not many voices to the financial circles. This could be our role . . . this could be our gain. And of course for my personal gain, it would be good for me not to be the one sponsoring the AHU in the future but sponsored by other financial companies.
However, we need to be known first. And until we are known, it is my role to sponsor the AHU. I have no financial target in this field. Of course it would be a very good thing if we find a big company in Hungary or in Europe or in Africa which try to open a market for our network but firstly we need the network. If we could have such business activities to search for partners and to get them together to make business. And from this we want these big companies or NGOs to be our sponsors.
So our activity is to open economic relationship between Hungary and Europe or East Europe. We want to take jobs to Africa and then buyers for the African products. On the other hand, to have a sponsor in which any company will share with us their profit, to give us sponsorship, to open other market, to open other projects in order to fulfill other demands.
So the goal will eventually be a business enterprise since you are speaking about business now.
Yes . . . yes I am talking about to get together in partnership enterprises but not for ourselves (the AHU) to make business. Our business will be if we collect enough data on our website or if somebody does not know how to make business in Senegal, Lesotho, Kenya. Because we have the knowledge in these things. I mean a kind of consulting but we dont bill anybody for consulting fee. Another part of our activity is to establish the African Hungarian Chamber of Commerce. And this will be a business activity. But that would be later.
Many Africans in Hungary believe the AHU is a business enterprise disguising as a charity organisation. What is your reaction to this allegation?
Probably the people are thinking . . . because nobody understands that I am not stupid just a bit rich. And so from my richness I am trying to give back. As I am involved in African issues this is a natural target for myself to give our strength and our sponsorship in this direction. Of course I could make Albania Hungarian Union or Eskimo Hungarian Union but I have chosen Africa. If anyone can say which type of business activity we do in the AHU or what kind of profit we could arrange in this . . . because there is no sponsorship from outside, no state money, so this is a pure charity.
My target, as I mentioned earlier, is to make sure that it would not be only me to finance the AHU but other companies that believe in our efforts. Therefore, we have to be nice, beautiful like a woman to have a husband. We need to be seen by others and to be believed. We, like a Chamber of Commerce, will only help our members to open business between Africa and Europe. We ourselves dont plan to make business.
Do you mean foundation members?
No, not foundation members. How I imagine the future we have a nice website http://www.ahu.hu/ , we have the knowledge, we have the experts, we have the books, we have the office and someone is thinking that maybe I can sell my product in Sudan but who can help me with the knowledge to achieve such goal. And he or she calls us because the AHU is in his or her mind.
Then we may charge yearly fee for our service before providing some data. However, it is quite different from when someone calls us to find his or her father whom he or she had lost contact with. For example, there is a girl in Békescsaba who has lost contact with her father in Congo. Someone like this does not need to be our sponsor before access to our database.
What would you pinpoint as the achievement of the AHU since it was formed?
As I mentioned already that we are known. I think the main good thing we have done that we dont separate people. As I used to say, we are close and at the same time we are far from everybody. So we dont have any country which is closer to our heart and there is no African country or society or people or nation which is most far from our heart. And this is, I think, our biggest achievement we really try to turn this movement in one direction. It is not visible now but I think the fact that we dont discriminate against anybody is a big achievement. So we are not widening the gap but making it smaller.
What about the Agricultural University being implemented by the AHU?
Yes, we have collected enough money to buy the building itself. And we have small fund for the future to make plan of the building and we will begin in February probably some mission to collect money to build the school. This will be a school for Agriculture but not accredited in Hungary. It is going to be a private college for only Africans.
Does that mean there would be tuition?
Of course there are some who will pay and some will be on scholarship because we would pay on their behalf.
Dont you think that the African problems should be left for the Africans to solve themselves?
I do. I do think so. But I think the Africans themselves will not be able during the short time to collect enough money and other things to move fast not to be colonised for example by China. Of course it would be better if the African nations could become democratic and have free elections and so on which sometimes are lacking in African countries. But we are not interested in telling anybody how to develop their countries. We are trying to concentrate mainly on the schools and studies because we believe this is the base in which a country could develop their own economy.
You recently visited Sierra Leone under the AHU umbrella. Why is such visit necessary?
In order to establish our connections everywhere. And we are not choosing our way but God shows us where to go. If we are invited, we go there. We are following the path that life is showing to us. We had the invitation for the inauguration of the new government in Sierra Leone and so we graced the occasion. As I said we dont choose and we have no choice about the countries we go if we are invited. Going to Sierra Leone is a confirmation that we are as close as we are as far to everybody.
Why did you change the name from African Hungarian Elite to African Hungarian Union?
African Hungarian Elite is a trial of having a group which organises events for Africans but Elite means not the same maybe for you guys from Africa and guys Hungarians. It is basically not to widen the gap between the people, nations and organisations. I think we dont have to say that we are elites and others are not. Or that we are better and others are worse so this itself shows that we welcome everybody. The movement should turn to direction of the goodwill of Africa.
As of now, how many members?
We have thirteen members who founded the African Hungarian Union. We have not received any application for membership since then. We tried to collect applications for sponsoring members to our society but there is not much demand for such a thing.
How often do you meet?
We meet every month. With Mr Omotunde we are trying to make the monthly meeting compulsory. Usually everybody has his own work. Of course everybody is very busy. Everybody is making his own life. It is common in Hungary for people to forget about the discussion in a meeting as soon as they get in their cars. Even when we sent questions by e-mail, we normally get few answers. This is why I enforced monthly meetingat least.
And every member attends?
No, I dont say so. Usually half of the members do attend. But I can say mainly that the Hungarian members do not come often but the Africans who are also Hungarians do attend the meetings.
I asked the question because it seems that only you and Komolafe are deeply involved. Okay, in what capacity do they contribute to the union? I mean the founding members.
The founding members paid their founding fee which was around 80 euros by person.
80 euros every year?
No it was a founding fee. But this is the first year ending now so I hope that they will pay again for the next year as a sponsorship to our society. You see us (Omotunde and I) mostly together because this is my room that I lent to the union. I go to a smaller room because I also work here. I have my private businesses but the people you see in this room are working for the AHU. All the other members, of course, they are trying to help us by participating in the events where we can show ourselves; where we can explain our activities and plans for the next year. And sometimes they give money for some projects. For example, one of our members provided the bus that took people to the Szerencé summit in August (last year).
What happened to one of the founding members Sami Charles?
Yes, he resigned in the first meeting of the AHU. He was initially to be the chairman but at the first meeting he decided that he would not have so much time to participate in the activities of the organisation.
Not that he was kicked out? Because that was the rumour.
No. We didnt kick out anybody. Otherwise what I have been telling you would not be true. In that case we are not covering the gap but widening it even if it is just one person. No, we pushed nobody out. Sometimes I think we should ask some people to leave because of their carelessness, but I never carried it out. Of course if there will be a crime like killing someone. In that case we should take drastic action. But we didnt push out Mr. Sami Charles. He resigned in this very room where we are now after an argument with other members about the target of the AHU. He said politely that he would not have the time.
In what way is the Miss Afro Pageant part of the AHU agenda?
Miss Afro contest is a very good chance for the AHU to show itself as an organisation that cares about events involving African things. The AHU does not give or receive anything. But I am a bit sorry because not many AHU members participated but everybody liked the success of the Miss Afro contest. Financially it was zero for the AHU.
I understand that you are going to Bamako by road in January 2008. What is the connection between this trip and the AHU?
Once again I can only say that the AHU target is to show ourselves as an organisation involved in all African issues. We paid 3000 euros to make a borehole in Mauritania and we have prepared to make sure that the car will not develop any mechanical fault on the way. We are not going to race but establish our connections in these countries. It is more or less a publicity in the newspapers, radio and so on. We hope to have connections in Morocco, Mali, Mauritania, West Sahara. As for myself and my team, it is good to know the life in these countries. Not only to see things on the internet or television but to have real experience.
Why did you accept to be the president?
You know I studied in multilingual school in Russia. I met many Africans, Asians, Venezuelans. My friends were not Hungarians because Hungarians sometimes do not like their fellow Hungarians. As I came home I met myself in business life. And previously I had wanted to make business so international network. My studies in the socialism was to be an international business man. So I thought through such organisation I could return to my dreams of working in the international field.
Is it rotational or are you a life president?
No no. This is five years long. And of course the members will choose another president.
You said earlier that you help Africans here. Do you look for them or do they come to you?
I dont look for and we dont look for as an organisation. As I mentioned, we dont have big financial base so if any demand or project comes to us, we try to get money for it. Until now we have been lucky not to say no to anybody but we dont look for. Looking for people to help would be against what I said before about closing the gap. We dont want to choose. If anybody comes, we try to help financially. For example, we have given money for issuing books about Africa. We are now sponsoring a radio programme in the radio café. It is not a business thing. We are trying to give possibility to listen to African issues. We want everybody to have a voice from Uganda to Lesotho through this radio programme. For the radio programme we pay approximately 25,000 dollars yearly. And we will also pay another 25,000 dollars for TV programme but for three months. This is also for everybody around African issues to show themselves, although the selection falls on the editors desk. This is the first step because we must be known in order to get help.
Arent you afraid of competition?
No I am not otherwise what I have been saying would be false.
What is your parting sort for Africans living in Hungary?
They should not fight or be jealous of each other. I think Africans in Hungary though they like to be Africans, but maybe because they have so many troubles in the street or during their lives, the first thing they do is to change their nationality to Hungarian. African natives or African Hungarians must join together either in the AHU or another one. But if they are acting separately like an island, they may not be as successful as if they were to be together.
Finally, I would like you to describe yourself
Yes I would like you to describe yourself
This is not easy you know. Our picture is not the same as the others see us. Maybe I am a stupid idealist. I have my own business in another field and I have enough to live without any involvement in any African or Albania or Eskimo thing. I think I have strong luck but weak knowledge and from this strong luck I would like to give back something to others who do not have such a strong luck. I think that is who I am maybe.
2008 copyright email@example.com
Hakeem Babalola is currently teaching English Communication in Budapest, Hungary. He loves writing, a vehicle by which he rides to relieve himself of certain emotions. His articles have appeared in Nigerian newspapers including Nigerian Tribune, Daily Champion, Vanguard, Daily Trust respectively. He is also a contributor to several online magazines like Nigeriavillagesquare.com, Chatafrikarticles.com, voiceofnigerians and a host of others. Hakeem is a member of Association of Hungarian Journalists.
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posted 4 December 2007
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