The concept of participation is a cornerstone of development and democracy discourses, but studies on participatory development rarely examine the political regimes those policies are embedded in. Yet, in authoritarian contexts, participation is ambiguous, potentially threatening—as it can be connected to democratic ideals—and it also can be used as a resource, a tool for domination. Through an analysis of participatory development projects implemented in Sudan, I explore how power relations are renegotiated at the local level. Relying on data collected during fieldwork in Khartoum and the state of North Kordofan, where the projects are located, I highlight the disconnect between the discourse surrounding the participatory devices, which establishes an horizontal relationship between citizens and the local government, and the actual practices that strengthen the latter's power. In doing so, the article challenges a linear, top-down conception of authoritarian power and reveals the tensions that exist between institutional levels.