This paper reviews the ‘long twentieth-century’ development of ‘modern’ manufacturing in Sub-Saharan Africa from colonization to the present. We argue that classifying Africa generically as a ‘late industrializer’ is inaccurate. To understand the distinctively African pattern of manufacturing growth, we focus our discussion on the dynamic interplay between the region’s specific endowment structures, global economic relationships and government policies. We conclude that the case of Sub-Saharan Africa is best characterized as interrupted industrial growth instead of sustained convergence on world industrial leaders. This is partly because, until very recently, the factor endowments made it very costly for states to pursue industrialization; and partly because successive rulers, colonial and post-colonial, have rarely had both the capacity to adopt and the dedication to sustain policies that modified the region’s existing comparative advantage in primary production, by using their fiscal and regulatory powers effectively to promote industrialization.