During much of the 1980s and 90s, a literature emerged suggesting that ‘developmental states’ were impossible in Africa. The arguments given ranged from cultural ones about the pervasive nature of clientalism to structural ones on the dependence of African economies or the atypical levels of rent seeking in African economies. This paper argues that Africa has had states that were ‘developmental’ in both their aspirations and economic performance. It further argues that these experiences need to be examined critically for useful lessons, an exercise that has been hindered by an excessive levelling of the African political and economic landscapes.