Does trade openness necessarily lead to income convergence between countries in the North and South and hence facilitates social development? This paper challenges this claim with regards to African development in the age of neo-liberalism. The paper argues that a one-sided reading of the history of an early phase of globalization by advocates of neo-liberalism seems to have turned trade openness into a mantra for African development. Furthermore the paper challenges the rhetoric of competitiveness that underpins the rationale for neo-liberalism by critiquing the neoclassical model of competition. The neo-liberal policy position, as the paper suggests is problematic at an empirical level also. In a test for convergence for eleven sub-Saharan African countries described as good adjusters by advocates of trade openness, the paper shows that a straightforward openness per se guarantees nothing as far their growth rates are concerned. Rather this paper suggests that the role of the “developmental state” needs to be brought back in order to facilitate the international competitiveness of African countries. It will be argued that such a role for the developmental state rests on a very different conceptualization of the nature of capitalist competition and growth. In the final instance, then, we suggest the need for building a theory of the developmental state that rests on non-neoclassical macro- and micro-foundations.