Failing to Compete
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Failing to Compete

Technology Development and Technology Systems in Africa

Sanjaya Lall and Carlo Pietrobelli

This unique study draws on extensive fieldwork assessing technology systems in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe in the context of their export competitiveness. Its emphasis is on the role of technology systems in building industrial competitiveness and in this it finds deficiencies in the systems in all these countries, though there are also significant differences between them. Comparisons are made with more successful economies, particularly those of East Asia, and policy implications are drawn for the strengthening of technology support systems. Central to the book is its combination of academic analysis with a strong policy focus – policy implications are drawn for each case-study country.
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Chapter 2: The Relative Competitive and Technological Performance of Sub-Saharan Africa

Technology Development and Technology Systems in Africa

Sanjaya Lall and Carlo Pietrobelli


THE RECENT BACKGROUND The weaknesses of African manufacturing are well known, but it is useful to review its broad dimensions. Growth in the past two decades has been low, in several cases negative. Over 1990-97, manufacturing value added (MVA) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), excluding South Africa, grew at only 0.1 per cent per year. This poor performance occurred in the context of rapid industrial growth in other developing regions, with many countries using manufacturing to drive a rapid transformation of their production and export structures. The share of Africa, including South Africa, in global MVA has remained constant since 1980, at under 0.4 per cent (UNIDO, 1999). Even this low level of activity is highly concentrated. In 1998, South Africa by itself accounted for 55 per cent of total SSA’s MVA, and the next seven countries for another 22 per cent (ibid.). SSA is lagging not just in terms of the volume of manufacturing activity, but also (increasingly) in the technological content of this activity. This is at a time of unprecedented technological progress, when new technologies, skills, organizational methods and modes of networking are transforming the nature of economic activity. In some (largely traditional) activities, it is possible to remain competitive with unskilled cheap labour and processing natural resources. However, this base is eroding steadily. In an increasing number of industrial activities, competitiveness involves technological change, flexible response, greater networking and closely integrated production systems across firms and regions (what Best, 1990, calls the ‘new competition’). The new competition...

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