We look at the beliefs of the population in North Cameroon concerning water, fish and water spirits in the context of the construction of a dam (1979) and of a flood embankment for a rice irrigation scheme financed by the World Bank. These operations caused a drought that had severe effects on the environment and the inhabitants’ economic activities. Acknowledging the new approaches within development and ecological development thinking, we emphasize that local people are part of their environment, and that the environment and people's use of the ecosystem ought to be regarded as a functional unit. Our main argument is that the success of environmental strategies requires that the unequal power relations between the different actors and agencies and the perceptions of policymakers and NGOs be analysed and examined regularly in the course of a project to test their aims and integrity. In addition, the positions of beings and cosmological entities, which in the eyes of the population are ‘actors of power to be reckoned with’, like the water spirit, should also be included. The hidden agendas of all actors can be as difficult as the water spirit (Maama Waata) itself, by which we mean that hidden agendas are equally a part of reality as is the water spirit, even if they are not visible at first.