The relationship between neo-patrimonialism and development seems more complex than is allowed for in either orthodox policy advice on ‘good governance’ or the standard political science accounts. This paper explores the range of historical and current experience among African political regimes, with particular reference to seven countries of Middle Africa. Drawing inspiration from literature on Asia, it proposes a way of getting to grips analytically with the diversity of African experience by setting out some elements of a typological theory about regimes and development performance. This centres on two aspects of the way rents are managed under different regimes: the degree of centralisation and the length of the time-horizon. The strengths and limitations of the particular type termed ‘developmental patrimonialism’ are discussed in relation to various periods in the history of Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania. Issues for further research are identified.