Nampula City

Violent Resistance: Militia Formation and Civil War in Mozambique

Book published in January 2022 with Cambridge University Press

Book Cover VR

Why do communities form militias to defend themselves against violence during civil war? Using original interviews with former combatants and civilians and archival material from extensive fieldwork in Mozambique, Corinna Jentzsch’s Violent Resistance explains the timing, location and process through which communities form militias. Jentzsch shows that local military stalemates characterized by ongoing violence allow civilians to form militias that fight alongside the government against rebels. Militias spread only to communities in which elites are relatively unified, preventing elites from coopting militias for private gains. Crucially, militias that build on preexisting social conventions are able to resonate with the people and empower them to regain agency over their lives. Jentzsch’s innovative study brings conceptual clarity to the militia phenomenon and helps us understand how wartime civilian agency, violent resistance, and the rise of third actors beyond governments and rebels affect the dynamics of civil war, on the African continent and beyond.

Shortlisted for the Conflict Research Society Book of the Year Prize 2023.


‘Jentzsch treats civilian self-defense during civil wars with methodological astuteness and theoretical sophistication. The book, using novel data from intensive field research, explores the hard choices civilians face when caught between state and insurgent forces. It is a valuable contribution to both the policy and academic domains.’

Ariel I. Ahram - Professor and GIA Program Chair, School of Public and International Affairs, Virginia Tech

‘This is a terrific book. Grounded in rich and careful fieldwork in Mozambique, Jentzsch delivers a compelling, thoughtful account of how and why community-based militias form and spread. Violent Resistance is an outstanding contribution to the study of civil wars, political violence, and African military conflict, necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand wartime spaces beyond states and rebels.’

Scott Straus - Professor of Political Science at University of California-Berkeley, and author of Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Genocide, and Leadership in Modern Africa

‘Despite their importance for almost all civil wars, militias remain a relative mystery. This book provides a lucid and comprehensive analysis of civilian militias and their role in contemporary conflicts. Drawing on Jentzsch’s extensive knowledge of the conflict in Mozambique, the result is a grounded and often surprising tour of the often-contradictory role militias play in both violence and peace.’

Zachariah Mampilly - Marxe Endowed Chair of International Affairs, Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, Baruch College, New York

‘What a beautiful political anthropology of the Mozambican civil war! Corinna Jentzsch has conducted a ‘subalternist study’: she ‘dives’ into the original social relations within the peasantry. Even if the magical aspect of the militia war may be surprising, it is directly the result of the social and cultural reaction of communities to protect themselves in a situation of stalemate between the two main sides of the civil war. In this sense, Corinna Jentzsch’s fieldwork has produced a fundamental work of generalist scope about the reaction of subalterns to their marginalization.’

Michel Cahen - CNRS Emeritus Researcher at Sciences Po Bordeaux, and author of Não somos bandidos. A vida diária de uma guerrilha de direita: a Renamo na época do Acordo de Nkomati (1983–1985), 2019

‘A beautiful book of contemporary social history.’

Michel Cahen - Revue d’Histoire Contemporaine de l’Afrique.

‘This book contributes (…) to deepening our understanding of how civilians during the civil war sought ‘third-way’ strategies, not fully endorsing either of the two key belligerents, Frelimo and Renamo.’

Alex Vines - Journal of Southern African Studies.

‘The book outlines a new research program, offering concepts, puzzles, and explanatory factors that are sure to lay the foundation for numerous studies to follow. And it does so with immersive interviewing, gripping prose, and thoughtful reflection that sets the bar for the qualitative study of civil conflict.’

Ches Thurber - Perspectives on Politics.