The international community has been engaged in capacity development for decades, sometimes under different names or with a slightly different focus. So far, these efforts have failed to bring significant and sustainable change. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 specifies capacity development as the means to reduce disaster losses substantially. The purpose of this paper is to offer a better understanding of the reasons behind the poor results with capacity development for disaster risk reduction (DRR). Twenty qualitative semi-structured interviews with high-level decision makers in the international community indicate systemic failure that requires a complete overhaul of the aid system. When analysing the discrepancies between principles for capacity development (ownership, partnership, contextualization, flexibility, learning, accountability, long- term, and sustainability) and the actual performance of actors operating in a complex, dynamic, uncertain, and ambiguous world, five interrelated problems emerge: (1) Clashing principles; (2) Quixotic control; (3) Mindset lag; (4) Lack of motivation for change; and (5) Power imbalances. Understanding and addressing these systemic problems is fundamental to the success of capacity development. It is not enough to blame the actors who implement capacity development activities for DRR, nor to merely rename it, yet again, after another few years of continuous frustration.