Until recently, consensus existed in certain circles that the African industry was not suitable for cost-effective production of quality, safe drugs. Yet, public and private pharmaceutical enterprises have cropped up on the continent, with some venturing into production of sophisticated and complex drugs, such as antiretrovirals (ARVs). In our study, we analyse and contrast the dynamics of local pharmaceutical manufacturing in Mozambique and Zimbabwe with the objective of understanding why pharmaceutical production in Africa is picking up momentum and the influence of global funding for ARVs in this process. Our analysis identifies two routes of development for local pharmaceutical manufacturing: a favourable economic outlook and support from the international community created the necessary conditions for the development of the nascent pharmaceutical industry in Mozambique, while in Zimbabwe, the presence of an established local industry was instrumental in bringing in favourable, if not always coherent, government regulation. In both countries, the introduction of AIDS treatment created windows of opportunity for local production of pharmaceuticals by increasing public sector demand, providing fresh funds, and providing a justification for government regulation favouring local production. Despite the long-standing and well-known problems that created persistent shortcomings in human resources and in the economic and industrial environments, we conclude that pre-existing developmental roots, international funds and supportive state industrial policies are encouraging more manufacturers to enter the business of local pharmaceutical production in Africa. However, the opportunities brought in by fresh AIDS funds will need to be sensibly managed at both the local and global levels, as the world’s interest on the disease may not last in the long term.