What explains technological adaptation in Africa? A comparative study of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Källarsalen Session 1: Paths towards sustained development in the global south: Historical lessons organized by Erik Green and Ellen Hillbom


Bertus Markus Melles, Prince Young Aboagye


It is widely acknowledged that for countries to catchup in productivity, they need to go through a process of technological upgrading. Although few African countries have caught up with the developed countries, one cannot deny that many African countries went through a process of technological adaptation over the past century. Under different technological paradigms, countries responded to the diffusion of technological revolutions, unfolding over the twentieth and twenty first centuries. However, since most African countries have not yet made the step to developed status, the process technological adaptation is left relatively unexplored. What explains the types and process of technological adaption over the long run in Africa? This paper attempts to contribute to this question by exploring the change of productive structures of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire over the past century. The study aims to identify the similarities and differences in the types and processes of technological adaptation in these countries. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire make an excellent comparative study for several reasons. Both countries are located in West Africa and share similar factor endowments and socio-economic characteristics, including similar levels of GDP per Capita, a history of colonialism and a history of dependence on cash crops. Secondly, both countries have experienced significant structural changes in their productive structure over the past century, yet there are important differences between the two countries as to which industries have been appropriated. By analyzing evolution of this process, this paper seeks to explain the factors that have shaped the diffusion and adaptation and the failure of adaptation of technological paradigms in Africa. To achieve this objective, the paper employs the concepts of social capabilities, technological congruency, and path dependence. We preliminarily find that successful technological upgrading has usually been a gradual one, in line with the country’s already existing productive capabilities. Leapfrogging technologies hasn’t had an enduring effect on the productive structure of the two countries. The type of successful technological adaptation seems to have been explained by factors common to the two countries, whilst differences in social capabilities between the two countries seem to explain the extent of technological adaptation. Some of these differences are rooted in long run historical factors that gave Ghana a head start in a cumulative process of structural transformation, whilst others are the consequences of paradigm shifts in government policies.


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