This article considers the World Bank as a political thinker. This involves an interpretation of the values, methodologies, and theoretical references contained within the Bank's governance documentation. Generally, the Bank steers away from a serious engagement with the nature of states, or the dynamics of reform execution, even in its more detailed policy documents in reform areas such as administrative reform. But, by looking at the World Bank's involvement in African states, we can understand the ways in which the World Bank works with certain expectations concerning how reforms will work. The article critically analyses the Bank's ‘political vision’ by comparing it with prominent theories of African politics. The article concludes that the World Bank's governance agenda misses three pivotal aspects of African politics: the unity of political and economic power, the extreme openness of African states to external pressures, and the salience of historically-embedded cultural and political relations. These three points directly raise important questions about the prospects of good governance reforms in Africa, and the involvement of the Bank therein.