Among the most entrenched criticisms of the record of European colonial rule in Africa is that it discouraged, or actively obstructed, the emergence of diversified colonial and post-colonial economies. Specifically, it is normally argued, the colonial state failed to create the climate in which industrialisation might have been possible. The two basic explanations advanced for this policy of neglect were a desire to ensure that the colonies continued to provide the metropolitan economies with a steady supply of desirable commodities, and a concern to protect the market share of metropolitan exporters. Critics of the colonial legacy, across the ideological spectrum, have often assumed that ‘development’ was a condition which could only be achieved through the process of industrialisation, and that specialisation in commodity production for export could not have been in the colonies' long-term interests. Moreover, in the late colonial period, industrialisation had come to be seen by many as a measure of a state's effective autonomy and economic ‘maturity’, as witnessed by the sustained attempts by many former African colonies to promote their own industrial sectors, often with substantial state involvement or assistance. While it cannot dispute the obvious fact that in most of late colonial Africa, industrialisation was negligible, this paper will offer a refinement of conventional assumptions about the colonial state's attitudes towards this controversial topic. Drawing on examples from British Africa, particularly that pioneer of decolonisation, West Africa, and focusing on the unusually fertile period in colonial policy formation from the late 1930s until the early 1950s, it will suggest that the British colonial state attempted, for the first time, to evolve a coherent and progressive policy on encouraging colonial industrial development.