This article considers development interventions in the extractive resource sector undertaken by three African countries (Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda) to understand how they fit into the “developmental state” framework originally used to explain the miraculous economic development East Asia experienced after World War II. We focus on interventions aimed primarily at enhancing the capacity of a state’s nationals to participate in extractive resource development. Our understanding of a development state is based fundamentally on Mkandawire’s definition: a state “whose ideological underpinnings are developmental and one that seriously attempts to deploy its administrative and political resources to the task of economic development.” However, we also propose that the existence of opportunities for citizen participation in the development process is an essential ingredient of a developmental state. While the state itself sets the policy agenda and coordinates the developmental efforts, it is the citizens themselves who are to generate that development. This view aligns with the idea of a “democratic developmental state” but is apparently inconsistent with Johnson’s original formulation of the developmental state concept. However, we postulate that the developmental state need not be conceptualized exactly according to its original formulation since development itself is not static. That said, the most important thing is the seriousness of the attempts a state makes to develop. After evaluating the seriousness of the attempts Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda have made to promote development through the adoption of policies and laws intended to enhance local participation in the extractive sector, we argue that there is a significant gap between policy declarations and the actionable steps and/or laws initiated to translate those policies into reality. We conclude, however, that Tanzania and Rwanda fit more properly into the developmental state framework, whereas there are serious doubts as to whether Kenya qualifies as a developmental state.