This paper describes and analyses the multi-actor governance process that made Mozambique the first African nation-state to develop a national policy framework for sustainable biofuels. The paper draws on findings from action research conducted in Mozambique between December 2008 and July 2012. We analyse interactions between the changing governance context, the course of the multi-actor governance process, and the choices in relation to governance framework characteristics and content for four successive stages of governance framework development. This provides the basis for reflection on the competences required for effective multi-actor sustainability governance, and a discussion about the role of the nation-state in sustainability governance of global economies such as biofuels. The governance framework for sustainable biofuels has contributed to a more transparent and secure investment climate for biofuels in Mozambique. Key factors for success were (1) the presence of different types of competences during the various stages of the governance framework development, (2) closing the gap between ‘licences to sell’ and ‘licences to produce’ across different governance levels, and (3) balancing between the short- and long-term objectives for biofuel production in Mozambique and requirements of global biofuel markets. Developing-country nation-states can provide an essential contribution to these success-factors for global governance of sustainable biofuels.