Sub-Saharan Africa’s recent economic boom has raised hopes and expectations to lift the regions’ ‘bottom millions’ out of poverty by 2030. How realistic is that goal? We approach this question by comparing the experiences of three front-runners of region-specific development trajectories – Britain’s capital-intensive, Japan’s labour-intensive, and Ghana’s land-extensive growth path –, highlighting some historical analogies that are relevant for, but often overlooked in the current ‘Africa rising’ debate. We draw particular attention to Africa’s demographic boom and the possibilities of a transition to labour-intensive export-led industrialization. Although our exercise in diachronic comparative history offers little hope for poverty eradication by 2030, we do see broadened opportunities for sustained African economic growth in the longer-term.