West Africa was historically short of labour, and remains short of manufacturing: hardly the place to look for ‘labour-intensive industrialization’. But a study of West Africa (or indeed of Sub-Saharan Africa generally) is significant for evaluating Kaoru Sugihara’s thesis of long-term ‘paths’ of economic development (e.g. Sugihara 2003, 2007), because it shows a path characterized by scarcity of capital as well as labour, and in which land-abundance was originally much qualified by environmental obstacles to intensive cultivation. In short, it fits into neither the ‘capital-intensive’ nor ‘labour-intensive’ paths. 2 Precolonial economies in the region produced considerable volumes of goods manufactured precisely by labour-intensive methods; but this was made possible by seasonal constraints on land use. It will be argued here that the logic of West Africa’s resource endowment, from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, was that industrialization was never likely to occur through a direct, ‘proto-industrial’ transition from handicrafts, but was always likely to involve an intermediate phase of specialization in land-extensive primary products. While the region remained short of labour, the most important contribution that governments could make to promote eventual industrialization was to invest (or facilitate household investment) in health and education, to raise the ratios of labour and skill to land. Starting in the decades of ‘legitimate commerce’ in the nineteenth century, during and after the decline of the Atlantic slave trade, accelerated under colonial (non-settler) regimes, the demographic and educational transition took a huge stride forward during the first half-century after Independence, c. 1960. 3 Though West African economies have yet to catch up to the international competition in the cost and schooling of labour, early in the twenty-first century it has become possible to consider the possibilities for industrialization in West Africa – taking advantage of the enlarged and better-trained supply of labour – more seriously than during the early post-Independence pushes for capital-intensive import-substitution industrialization. Thus, in relation to the comparative history of industrialization, it becomes possible to think of an indirect route to labour-intensive industrialization from labour-scarce beginnings.