This study examines ways that political leaders influence the development of the unofficial economy in Congo. Using aggregate data as well as data from observation and two surveys conducted in 1991–1992, it demonstrates that the unofficial economy develops not only as a reaction against an over-regulated state, but also because of a market segmentation along gender lines, state policy in defining property rights, and networks of relationships that partly shape the behavior of bureaucrats who act to satisfy their own preferences. Although the unofficial economy creates institutions that can challenge state hegemony, it neither allocates resources equally among the participants nor provides an equal access to high-profit activities to all. The findings suggest that women are more likely to be involved in low-value profit sectors of the unofficial economy than men. Because the unofficial economy reinforces mutual trust and reciprocity, it tends to create a new idea of social order and interactions.