The Common Good

Finding Hope in 'The Locust Effect'

Despite our best efforts, we’ve somehow missed it.

Even in the midst of our generous financial donations, volunteer hours, mission trips, and letter writing, we’ve failed to see what should have been glaringly obvious: the global poor lack the most basic ingredient for forward progression — personal security.

In their recently released book, The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen (founder of the International Justice Mission), and Victor Boutros (federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice) convincingly argue that all our best work to eradicate poverty — even while worthwhile, helpful, and well-intended — is for naught unless we concurrently address the epidemic of violence and fear facing the poor in the developing world. They write:

...the forces of predatory violence will not simply go away... On the contrary, if the forces of violence are not restrained, it is the hope of the poor that will just keep going away...and there is nothing that our programs for feeding, teaching, housing, employing, and empowering the poor will be able to do about it.

This, they say, is the locust effect. No matter how much money, effort, time, and heart goes into poverty eradication, when the locusts of violence sweep through the fields — destroying the widow’s ability to use a newly obtained microloan, a young girl’s desire to attend a freshly built school, a slave’s hope of obtaining treatment at a well-stocked health clinic — all of our well-intended works are useless.

The book begins with heart-wrenching stories of the fear and violence that destroy or hinder efforts at forward progression for the poor. Haugen and Boutros take their readers to hidden villages and brothels, unknown slave factories, and corrupt courtrooms, and police stations to demonstrate the impact of violence, especially on women and children. And just in case the stories and photos aren’t convincing enough, they then provide stats and facts to prove their points and show how the powers that be — such as the World Bank — have long known that the high rate of violence among the poor is keeping remedial measures from taking hold.

Haugen and Boutros do not stop at simply defining the locust effect and bringing stories of the poor to our attention. Instead, they painstakingly walk readers through what has caused such violence to take root, as well as how — despite the seemingly insurmountable problems they describe — a tidal change can occur. To stop the violence and fear that plague the world’s poor, they write, law enforcement and justice systems must be completely restructured.

The meticulous and systematic precision with which Haugen and Boutros present the problems rampant in current justice systems and law enforcement agencies, how such problems have historically been addressed elsewhere (including in the United States, where once upon a time a lynching occurred every three days), and how certain pockets of violence and corruption are being successfully addressed in modern time, leaves readers feeling that no stone has been unturned — we are now equipped to move forward in this fight against repressive fear and violence.

Equally as impressive — and as important if their hope is to get change agents on board with them — is the balanced and fair approach that Haugen and Boutros take. Even while telling advocates and others that all their work is for naught unless violence is eradicated, Haugen and Boutros consistently give praise and credit where due, being sure to note that lifting the poor out of poverty must be a concurrent effort between interested parties. Microloans, schools, health clinics, and the like should continue to be given and built, but someone must also take up the reins in the effort to provide security for the poorest among us.

Local residents, local community leaders, and reform-minded elites must be first and foremost in leading the charge. Then a cadre of like-minded people of “all faiths or no faith” must join efforts in their common cause of ending violence. Finally, donor countries must demonstrate a commitment to building criminal justice systems that bring effective law enforcement to the poor. Without this, Haugen and Boutros write, “much of our twenty-first-century efforts in the developing word are likely to run swirling down the same drain of lawless chaos they did in the last century.”

Even though the picture they paint is often bleak and overwhelming, the authors conclude with a strong message of hope. History has proven it is possible to turn corrupt, abusive, dysfunctional justice systems into well-oiled, virtuous machines. Moreover, given the previously hidden nature of violence, the best and brightest among us have not even begun to apply their best thinking and resources to support such transformation. Now that the locusts of violence have been uncovered for all to see, we can begin to give them equal resources and time with hunger, dirty water, disease, illiteracy, unemployment, gender discrimination, housing, and sanitation, all the while remembering that it is, in fact, the locusts of violence that are often the “hidden force undermining solutions to these other needs.”

As we move forward with what Haugen and Boutros call “projects of hope,” they suggest starting small to learn through experimentation; using collaborative methodologies to diagnose what is broken and what is not; and supporting local champions of reform who can lead local efforts.

With this groundbreaking book before us, with the hard truth of violence against the poor, broken justice systems, and the certain hindrance of other poverty eradication measures finally brought to light, it is time, they write, that we secure for the poor what we have always had but thought little of: freedom from violence and fear. Once this is done, the global poor may finally begin to emerge from their previously insurmountable circumstances to finally flourish and thrive.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a Berkeley-based writer, attorney, wife, and mom of four. Her writing appears in numerous publications, including Sojourners and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. She is a contributing writer to Christian Feminism Today and a member of the Redbud Writers Guild. Jamie blogs weekly at jamiecallowayhanauer.com, and you can follow her on Facebook or on Twitter @JamieHanauer.

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