People in Borkena in Ethiopia suffer from a complex interplay of environmental degradation, increasing shortage of land due to population growth, conflicts between different ethnic and religious identities, and social confrontations as a result of such tensions. The most depressing problem is that they can not find a way out of the downward spiral of resource scarcity and conflict. And the authorities do not give them any chance to get involved themselves in actively searching for solutions specific to their complex problems. All they get is orders, and plans which are designed from above and do not take into account their experience about the complexity of their social situation, and consequently can not solve their problems. This paper was part of the requirements for a Masters degree at the University of Aalborg. Fieldwork for this study was supported by Chr. Michelsen Institute through a grant from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany. It was supported as part of a research effort on "Democracy from Below" in Ethiopia, in a cooperation between the Chr. Michelsen Institute, the Forum for Social Studies in Ethiopia and the University of Addis Ababa. The author thanks the donors for enabling him to carry out his fieldwork in Northern Shoa, Ethiopia, in Autumn 1999.