‘You can’t just go to the field and leave again with data’: meet LUCIR scholar Corinna Jentzsch
Corinna Jentzsch, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Institute of Political Science and co-convener of the Leiden University Center for International Relations (LUCIR) has conducted extensive fieldwork in Mozambique. Her resulting book, Violent Resistance: Militia Formation and Civil War in Mozambique, explains the timing, location and process through which communities form self-defence militias. Fellow experts call it a ‘terrific book’, a ‘beautiful political anthropology of the Mozambican civil war’ and an ‘outstanding contribution to the study of civil wars, political violence, and African military conflict’. Reason for Ghulam Ali Murtaza, PhD candidate at Leiden University’s Institute for History, to meet this LUCIR scholar and ask her about her research.
This is the second of a series of interviews we will conduct with affiliates of LUCIR. Corinna Jentzsch’s new book, Violent Resistance: Militia Formation and Civil War in Mozambique, has been published with Cambridge University Press and will be discussed during a African Studies Centre Leiden/LUCIR book launch on 14 April 2022. This interview was conducted by Ghulam Ali Murtaza , PhD candidate at Leiden University’s Institute for History.
Your book Violent Resistance is about the civil war in Mozambique—a sensitive and controversial subject in the context of Western knowledge practices vis-à-vis Africa. What are the specific challenges of studying civil conflicts in Africa in terms of not reproducing these practices?
That’s an important question. I think it’s important to work with researchers and analysts from the country you’re studying and build on and cite their work. It’s also important to listen to people, make use of ethnographic methods, and take into account your own positionality while doing such research.
I can clearly see in disciplines like history an active engagement with the question of empire. Concerned as it is among other things with civil wars and conflicts in formerly colonized places like Africa, how has Political Science as a discipline dealt with the legacies of formal colonialism and existing forms of Western hegemonies?
Political Science as a discipline has not been very good so far in dealing with the legacies of colonialism and forms of neo-colonialism. There needs to be much more reflection on how we conduct research in African countries and take controversies, for example about the use of behavioural experiments in African contexts, seriously. There has been a push for more transparency and ethical reflection in Political Science fieldwork, which is great, but we need to make sure that scholars understand that they can’t just go to the field and leave again with “data”; they need to acknowledge that any fieldwork is a form of “intervention” into the social and political fabric of a community, an issue I write about in my book.
Violent Resistance focuses particularly on the role of the Naparama movement during the civil war. You discuss how the movement drew on African spiritual traditions and social conventions to mobilize communities to end the violence which clearly was rooted in modern political and social imaginaries and concerns. Do you think that a creative engagement with African traditional values, philosophies, worldviews, and religions could help in bringing about long term peace and stability on the continent?
Yes, I think that engaging with the resources and ideas that communities have is important to create peace and stability. At the same time, we shouldn’t romanticize them, as not all of these ideas imply or lead to peace, of course, or some can also be abused. This is what later happened with the community-initiated militia Naparama: individual leaders abused their powers and used the force they created for their own political and economic interests.
Frelimo, like many other liberation parties in Africa and Asia, failed to fulfil the promises of independence and freedom. What factors, internal to the party, contributed to its degeneration?
Within Frelimo, there has always been a strong will to keep a united front, which lead to the suppression of political dialogue and the repression of dissenters. The development ideology that Frelimo adopted also lead to a lot of state intervention in the countryside, which Mozambicans rejected. This all created discontent that was easy to exploit by armed groups and contributed to the civil war in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, Mozambique is currently embroiled in another insurgency. Resource -rich Cabo Delgado, in the north of the country, has emerged as the center of activities of an Islamist insurgent group. Is it the continuation of the old conflict caused by the same fault lines or are we witnessing a distinctly different conflict?
This is a completely different conflict; it is linked to historical marginalization of certain communities, which also fueled the civil war in the 1980s, but the current armed group emerged out of a local conflict with the local administration and then linked up with transnational jihadist networks and turned to violence. Interestingly, the government has tried the same strategy as first with Renamo—ignoring the political dimensions of the conflict and delegitimizing them by calling them terrorists, which I’ve recently written about in Africa is a Country.
What is the role of Western energy companies and troops’ presence in creating and fueling this new conflict?
This is difficult to say; some analysts see the potential gas exploration and the unequal access to its (future) profits as a root cause for this insurgency. Many Mozambicans think that the conflict is about the spoils from the gas projects, which I think is a rather cynical view of politics and economics in the country. But the insurgency has a much longer history of marginalized communities in northern Mozambique, which predates the gas exploration projects. The European, Rwandan and southern African troops currently in the country support the Mozambican army in the fight against the insurgents; it will all depend on whether they respect human rights and don’t target civilians indiscriminately like the Mozambican army did since the beginning of the conflict, as this contributed to discontent with the government and support for the insurgents.
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The Leiden University Centre for International Relations (LUCIR) is a multi-disciplinary platform promoting research and education on international relations at Leiden University.
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