This article utilises historical information to throw light on the forces shaping British aid policies towards Africa. It outlines key long-term policy developments, summarises the influences shaping these policies and comments on the present juncture of UK policies. It shows that, while there have been many influences, governments have enjoyed considerable policy autonomy, being largely unconstrained in pursuing their preferences in a top-down manner. This autonomy has mainly been used for the pursuit of long-term development, as against the promotion of the UK’s national interest. The present thrust of UK policies to achieve massive increases in aid to Africa is a prime example of this policy autonomy.