Against the background of decades of limitedly successful Western international state-building efforts and in light of the recent heightened attention to (state-building in) Africa, this study investigates the feasibility of less international involvement instead of more. To make such assessment convincingly, the involvement needs to be identified as counterproductive to the achievement of peaceful well-functioning societies, and the counter-productivity is to be located in the involvement as such and not just linked to its defective implementation. To this effect, this paper proposes the conceptual framework of the EU as an ‘Ethical Intervener’ as an instrument to deconstruct the EU's well-intended Africa policies into the mechanisms (‘Inequality Mechanism’ and ‘Intervener-Centric Mechanisms’) that are potentially detrimental to the achievement of these ethical goals. The conceptual framework is applied to some of the defining policy documents in EU–Africa relations of the last decade, thus incorporating the most recent developments such as the focus on the principles of ownership, equality and partnership. In conclusion, we reflect on the feasibility of less international involvement by differentiating between the avoidable and unavoidable problematics in today's state-building efforts.