'Local ownership' and 'participation' have become buzzwords for international intervention, whether military, humanitarian or developmental, by the UN, World Bank, agencies or non-governmental organizations. This has been partly to avoid accusations of intrusion and to enhance its legitimacy. Yet, such strategies have often not promoted local ownership in any meaningful way. Rather, they have denied it, confused which (local), and obscured the wider range of meanings of the concept. Internationals claim that they are referring to 'national' rather than local ownership because their focus is on a viable state that should become a member of the international community while also providing rights to its citizens. Despite good intentions such understandings of ownership do little to enhance a contextual social contract even if they do create relationships of conditionality between national elites and international donors, though they may indirectly enable the voices of a range of local actors, as this article outlines.