For much of the last 30 years, Africa has commonly been considered the world’s greatest developmental failure – plagued by economic decline, corruption, AIDS, environmental degradation and conflict. While the overgeneralised nature of this ‘Afro-pessisimist’ discourse was problematic, the extent of economic decline of much of the continent cannot be denied. However, more recently, the number of conflicts on the continent has declined, rates of economic growth have dramatically improved and poverty may be reducing for the first time in decades. This article investigates the depth, structure and significance of Africa’s current economic recovery. While recent academic work has been paid much attention to the rising role of Chinese trade and investment in the continent, it argues that this is only one among other significant trends explaining the current conjuncture. While investigating the environmental and economic impacts of recent Chinese trade and investment, the article seeks explores whether or not the re-alignment of differently scaled social processes opens up the possibility of a poverty-reducing ‘developmental regime’ for the continent.