Participatory methods are increasingly being used in development work at grassroots level in Africa. Western liberal concepts like ‘one person one vote’ underlie these methods. However, such concepts may not be easily compatible with a grassroots reality in which ethnicity (i.e. superior and subordinate ethnic identities) is an important factor shaping the social order. This article provides insights into the socio-political realities of ethnicity at village level in Botswana. The tension between participatory methods and the ethnically structured village reality are illustrated with examples from a project that tested the relevance of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) in Botswana. The authors identify problems and opportunities of participatory methods in addressing the inequalities in ethnically divided communities.
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