In this era of neo-liberal capitalist economics in Africa, has organised private capital in the form of business associations (BAs) become more active in public life or developed influence in public policy formation or implementation? This analysis examines the impact of five key factors to explain varying activity levels and influence of BAs in Ghana and Nigeria since independence: levels of capitalist development and hence size of the capitalist class; strength and autonomy of the capitalist class; strength of capitalist ideology; democratic vs. authoritarian rule; and impact of external hegemonic powers and ideologies. The paper finds that Nigeria's BAs are more highly developed, have had higher activity levels, and had more influence, however limited, than Ghana's. Externally generated economic liberalisation has stimulated higher levels of BA activity, but not necessarily the political space for BA autonomy. Political democratisation appears to increase political space, BA access to the state, and policy influence.