This paper explores the ‘paired opposition’ between heritage as ‘past-making’ and development as ‘future-making’ in Africa, considering the ostensibly contradictory temporalities and values of heritage and development discourses. While the value of cultural heritage is now routinely linked with the notions of development, this is usually in the sense in which heritage can be instrumentalized to bring about externally-determined development goals. Heritage is thus valued as a potential generator of revenue, through the development of cultural tourism, for instance; or, more vaguely, as a resource that has the capacity to foster social cohesion, conflict resolution and human wellbeing. Such approaches are problematic, however, insofar as they are themselves grounded in a long-standing heritage of colonial and postcolonial power inequalities, which determine both what constitutes heritage and what constitutes development. They provide little space for the emergence of alternative vision of the future, or alternative conceptualizations of the past. As Appadurai (2004) has argued, too often development practices and discourses fail to ‘build capacity’, but rather undermine the capability of people to aspire to futures of their own making. Extending this argument in relation to heritage, I suggest that if we are to respect people’s freedom to determine their own futures, we must also respect their freedom to determine the meanings, values and uses of the pasts from which these futures arise. Accordingly, we need to rethink heritage preservation as the safeguarding of this capability. I ground my discussion by examining changing discourses of the relationship between culture and development in Sierra Leone.