Abstract: In this paper it is argued that political development is the key to long-run growth in developing nations. Political development is seen to be dependent on the extent to which a state or ruling elite's income is earned or unearned. The availability of earned income is linked to the structure and productivity of the agricultural sector. Applying the analysis to the sub-Saharan African experience involves taking into account three factors: the international environment, the ethnic division of societies as a result of colonization, and the urban bias which characterized the economic strategy of the newly independent African states. As a result, agriculture collapsed, the ruling elite became increasingly dependent on unearned income, political underdevelopment occurred. The collapse of state authority significantly impoverished the region and resulted in significant civil conflict. Any long-run solution must incorporate a broad-based expansion in agricultural productivity.