Despite 40 years of research and development, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent, aquaculture is struggling to realize its high biophysical potential in Africa. Hampered by ineffective institutional arrangements and donor-driven projects, the substantial gains in desperately needed food security and economic growth predicted by development agencies have generally not been achieved. Nevertheless, African aquaculture has demonstrated its competitiveness, producing fishes that feed low on the food chain in a range of well-adapted, environmentally friendly and profitable farming systems that meet the needs of a broad spectrum of user-groups. Key constraints to broader growth include lack of good quality seed, feed and technical advice; poor market infrastructure and access; and weak policies that, rather than accelerate, impede expansion, largely by emphasizing central planning over private sector initiative. If African aquaculture is to make substantial and much needed contributions to the continent’s development, government policy should attempt to facilitate the alleviation of key constraints and rely more heavily on commercial investments to lead future growth. Evidence to date indicates that a pragmatic business approach focusing on small and medium-scale private enterprises would produce more benefits for more people than centrally planned and government led development projects.