This article attempts to understand why ethnic-regional civil war has challenged the national unity of Côte d'Ivoire and not Ghana, two neighbouring countries with nearly identical ethnic, religious and regional divisions, by examining politics at the grassroots. Based on a carefully controlled comparison of two similar regions of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, the study investigates how participation in local voluntary associations reinforces the local experience of the state to shape the ongoing development of political values and affect the prospects for ethnic peace and democracy. The article finds that participation in ethnically heterogeneous voluntary associations does not necessarily promote democratic values and practice. In fact, in Côte d'Ivoire, participation in ethnically heterogeneous cocoa producer and mutual assistance organisations reinforces vertical patronage networks based on narrower ethnic identities. In contrast, in Ghana, participation in more ethnically homogeneous local church groups encourages the development of democratic values and practices at the local level that mediate the potential for ethnic conflict and support the consolidation of a democratic regime.
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