On the night of 26th September 2014, 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College went missing in Iguala, South-Western Mexico. The young boys were headed to Mexico City on buses when they were intercepted by local police and subsequently attacked and detained. Research points out that the mass kidnapping was masterminded by the mayor of the city of Iguala and his wife. There are also reports of the alleged involvement of Federal Police in this incident. The case of the Iguala mass kidnapping sparked worldwide protests. The crime remains unsolved, as the official version presented by Mexican authorities differs from independent investigations. The victims are still waiting for an answer and for their loved ones to return. Omar Garcia Velazquez, one of the survivors, speaking fearlessly to the BBC, posed an important question to everyone: “What would you do if you knew it was your own government who murdered your son?”
The mea culpa rhetoric of government officials was not enough to calm down the people, who took to the streets to chant “I´ve had enough!” Details of the events that took place on that tragic night remain unclear, yet one thing is sure: the authorities failed to protect the citizens. How and why do states fail to provide basic welfare, security, and justice?
Despite the difficulty to formulate a theory that can aid policymakers in grappling with complex socio-political problems, scholars have identified a common thread in state failure patterns. According to political scientist Jack Goldstone, the loss of legitimacy and effectiveness is responsible for the collapse. Our behaviour is shaped by the institutions under which we live, so it becomes essential to analyse the functioning of these institutions, and, as scholar Daniel Lambach points out, to study local systems of authority and governance. Although “failed state” is a widely-accepted term, Lambach fears it is reductionist and therefore simplifies convoluted realities of corruption, injustice, and systemic breaking of democratic law. It has also become a convenient label used to justify military, political, and economic interventions in conflict-affected nations.
A more recent example of a troubled government is Turkey. The upcoming referendum on 16th April will mark a pivotal point in the country’s history, as citizens will decide whether the country will shift from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential system, thus granting current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan more power and the possibility of being re-elected, meaning he could govern the nation which acts as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East until 2029. Supporters of Erdogan claim this will make the country stronger; those who oppose him fear Turkey will fall in the hands of a one-man authoritarian rule. We have yet to see the results of the vote, but it is already highly controversial and has provoked tensions between Turkey and European nations such as Germany and The Netherlands.
When a state has betrayed its citizens, there is no turning back, as it takes time and almost always a turn of government to rebuild trust and restore an open platform for democratic rule. In order to attain the goals of state rebuilding, it is necessary to look at local forms of governance and the way these interact with the overall framework of peace-building. Simply put, to analyse the parts will offer a clearer understanding of the whole. In the meantime, all we can do is stay vigilant and remember to ask: have we had enough?
Words: Astrid Scheuermann
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu