In this paper I first consider whether mineral resources are, in fact, very important in the workings of modern African economies, weighing them up against the other, much more popular, domains of economic activity. I then turn to a history of mining development, offering a five stage periodization in order to account for the special place of mining in many African economies. The paper tries to show that the developmental benefits of mining, such as they are, have been restricted to a special kind of metal mining, and that diamond and oil extraction are unlikely to repeat them. But I do also offer a wider conceptual explanation for the importance of mining in many African economies. Running through all of these stages of mining history is, I think, a much simpler and more definite form of property than is otherwise available in Africa. I argue that it is this special form of property right that has made mining the dominant source of foreign investment in many African economies.