Botho – “I am because we are.” Constructing National Identity in the Midst of Ethnic Diversity in Botswana’s Junior Secondary Schools
Bethany Mulimbi

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Harvard University

Primary Discipline

Multiethnic states globally face the dilemma of how to negotiate ethnic diversity while promoting a unified national identity. In Botswana, a remarkable example of peace and stability in Sub-Saharan Africa, two highly visible discourses around national identity – one constructing national identity around the ‘majority’ ethnic group’s culture and language, and the other of a tolerant, multicultural nation – currently compete across public spheres.Formal schools are key institutions through which to observe the nature and effects of these competing discourses. States globally use mass education as a vehicle to transmit an authorized version of national identity, through centralized education policies and curriculum (Uslaner & Rothstein, 2012). Yet schools are also sites of “everyday nationhood” (Fox & Miller-Idriss, 2008), in which ordinary teachers and students actively participate in constructing the nation.My dissertation consists of comparative case studies of three junior secondary schools that vary in the ethnic composition of their student bodies and surrounding communities. My work is guided by three questions: How is national identity constructed in Botswana’s public junior secondary schools? How does the construction of national identity vary across and within these three school contexts? How do students from different ethnic groups make sense of their roles as national citizens, as they encounter different constructions of national identity in different contexts? I hope that my findings will offer recommendations for how practitioners and policy makers might move forward in transforming multicultural discourse into multicultural school practices promoting the equality of all Botswana’s students.
About Bethany Mulimbi
Bethany Mulimbi is a doctoral candidate in the Culture, Communities, and Education concentration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She holds an Ed.M. in International Education Policy, also from HGSE, and a B.A. in social anthropology and African studies from Harvard College. She is interested in the interplay between how formal education systems, individual schools, and teachers address the needs of students of diverse cultural backgrounds, particularly in Southern Africa. Her dissertation field research in Botswana has been supported by a Fulbright Fellowship and a Sinclair Kennedy Traveling Fellowship.

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