African history reveals the inadequacy of the concept of globalization. In contrasting a present of flows with a past of structures, it misreads the ways in which a 400‐year‐long process defined both Africa and the Atlantic‐centred capitalist economy. In regard to both past and present, it draws attention to the specific mechanisms by which long‐distance connections were forged and the limits of those mechanisms. Like modernization theory in the 1950s and 1960s, globalization talk is influential — and deeply misleading — for assuming coherence and direction instead of probing causes and processes. The article argues for more modest and more discerning ways of analyzing processes that cross borders but are not universal, that constitute long‐distance networks and social fields but not on a planetary scale.