Today a number of sub-Saharan African countries display the outward signs of modern, democratic states. International aid agencies often treat them as though power and decision-making reside within government institutions and that they function as designed. When they do not they are labelled dysfunctional though their action is actually quite logical when viewed through a ‘neopatrimonial lens’. This article outlines a number of neopatrimonial practices observed in Africa in the past two decades and attempts to explain the ‘logic’ that underpins them. It provides several recommendations about the way donors should assist states where deeply rooted anti-democratic and non-developmental behaviour dominates.