Sen’s (1999) description of individual freedoms as both means and ends of development may be too loose as an analytical key to understand institutional arrangements as evolving social constructions. Sen himself does also recognize this, approvingly citing Evans’ claim that “gaining freedom to do the things that we have reason to value is rarely something we can accomplish as individuals” (Evans, 2002 p . 56). In line with this, we give more conceptual flesh and bones to the interconnections between social structure and individual agency, by exploring the following propositions: (i) individual agency is never ‘free’ in that it always has an irreducibly collective aspect; (ii) ‘Social context’ is usefully described as a landscape of political arenas of public decision-making. (iii) Public sites of decision-making are partly and unevenly interconnected by various networks of persons, resources and information; These propositions are first illustrated by reviewing Sens association between types of political regimes and the way in which they conceive development. Then, we discuss the results of our own fieldwork on an anti-poverty intervention in Cameroon. We analyse an NGO-project which set out to stimulate the production of onions among a set of villages in the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon. Our fieldwork shows a plethora of peasant strategies around onions, and “NGOing” is definitely one of them. But not necessarily the most constructive one, we claim, if judged in terms of the political complexity of poverty reduction. In line with with the above propositions, the case-study points to the importance to trace capability deprivations back to weak political agency and to the sometimes ambiguous impact of democratic procedures.