The Locust Effect: Why The End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen

The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen Book ReviewTakeaway: “The temptation is to think that people that endure unimaginable pain and devastation are somehow different than me. Maybe they just do not feel like I do.”

Gary Haugen is the founder and head of International Justice Mission. Formerly a staff lawyer for the US Justice Department, Haugen started IJM to provide the legal services that are so desperately needed around the world. IJM is best known for its work freeing slaves around the world, particularly women and children in sex trafficking.

But the Locust Effect is more than an informational or fundraising book. The Locust Effect is a call for a refocusing of international aid’s emphasis. Traditionally international aid, whether government or non-governmental, has focused on emergency services (food or disaster aid) or individual or small group empowerment (economic development, building wells, education, etc.)

Haugen says that these traditional aid programs are important, and they have had a significant role in driving down the number (and percent) of people in extreme poverty. But during that same time, when those in extreme poverty have been dropping, the number in the next rung of poverty, just barely surviving, has been expanding. Haugen ties that plateau to the lack of functioning legal system and the prevalence of violence. Haugen is explicitly calling for international aid to take seriously the need for systemic legal reform in all aspects as the foundational step for all future aid.

The book opens illustrating the absence of a functioning legal system in cases of rape, murder and slavery around the world. And this is not limited to a few areas, but is endemic to the entire developing world.  The lack of a functioning legal system, police protection and basic contract rules means that the poor are at the mercy of the powerful.

Part of what is so important about this book is its systemic nature. Haugen is making the case that violence is a driver of poverty and prevents many from escaping poverty. He also ties the lack legal protections in much of the developing world to the history of colonialism and the legal structures that were put into place by colonial powers and rarely reformed after the colonial rule ended. So in many parts of the world, the legal system functions in the language of the colonial power, which is often not the language of the majority of the residents of that country. Or the legal system was intentionally structured to protect land owners, not the poor. Or the police are explicitly tasked with maintaining government rule, not solving crimes or preventing violence.

It is a much different scale, but I could not help but think of the Black Lives Matters protests as I read this book. The protests against police violence, the lack of adequate legal representation for poor defendants, the scapegoating of innocent prisoners to make police look like they have solved crimes are all things that Haugen points to as signs of a broken legal system. The difference is that in the US the majority of the legal system works just fine. The protests are about the relatively small (but important) areas where it is broken.

But in much of the world, the legal system is broken in incredibly unjust and at times mind boggling dumb ways. For instance, in Nairobi, rape must be investigated by a single doctor for a city of millions where hundreds of rapes occur every day. In other countries backlogs of cases are handled by the court looking at a case, for a single day. If the case takes more than that one day, the case goes to the back of the line and may take months or even years for the second day of case to be heard. So a prisoner may wait in custody for six or seven years for a minor offense waiting for the case to be tried.

The first several sections of the book are incredibly difficult to read. Haugen is recounting horror story after horror story of rape, murder and slavery, and how the powerful lack any accountability, while the poor are ground down. I was very thankful that Haugen spend the last sections of the book talking about realistic next steps and of examples of very significant improvements that have occurred recently when violence prevention and legal structure have been emphasized.

This really is not the easiest book to get through (digesting the content is hard, the actual writing is very good and the book is very well structured.) But if you have any interest in international aid, missions, the role of Christians in influencing politics and public policy, or the role of systemic thinking in Christian thought, this is an important book to read.

The Locust Effect: Why The End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary Haugen Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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