Rhetoric from both domestic and international policy actors equated foreign direct investment and robust business growth in Sierra Leone with an exit from fragility. To the contrary, the trajectory of private sector development experienced from 2002 to 2014 contributed to Sierra Leone's socio-political challenges, replicating in the contemporary period dynamics of grievance and exclusion that were root causes of the country's endemic instability and then civil war. This study challenges the practices and refines the ideas underlying the prevailing vision for business-led development in Sierra Leone and other fragile states. It links extensive documentation of the role of business in Sierra Leone with peacebuilding and statebuilding frameworks to present a novel perspective on the mechanisms of action of private sector development in contexts of persistent fragility. In doing so, it provides a foundation on which further theoretical propositions for the ordering of business-state relations in support of transitions from fragility to peaceful development can be developed and tested.