Book Review: ‘The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence’ (2013) by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

This book has blown my mind. Honestly and truly, this is not an overstatement. The title itself encapsulates the purpose of the book, one which evidently drives every chapter. Gary Haugen, the book’s main author, is the founder of the International Justice Mission; a mass organisation that seeks to end the global injustice of human trafficking. The Locust Effect is an in-depth account as to why violence is the predominant hindrance to ending poverty in the developing world.

The metaphor, indicated by the title, The Locust Effect, which is not addressed until the third chapter, refers to the plaguing effect of violence (the locusts) to the well-intended humanitarian work built-up in small communities (the harvest). Haugen uses this chapter to emphasize his point and does not grow shy of arguing that violence devours progress as easily as a swarm of locusts ravish a harvest. 

He evidences the main argument throughout the book, but most emphatically demonstrates this through an intimate and horrifying example portrayed in the powerful first chapter. This case details the pathetic masquerade of ‘justice’ after the murder and rape of an 8 year old Peruvian girl called Yuri. Haugen describes, through the rural surroundings, how Yuri’s family had tried so hard to provide a life for her that transcended that of their past, particularly through education. Yuri’s murder had been at the hands of a local oligarchical family, who hired a lawyer to protect their murderous son, and destroyed all evidence that would allow justice to prevail on behalf on Yuri.

The cover of Haugan’s ‘The Locust Effect’. (Credit: Oxford University Press)

Thus, we come to the conclusion of this book; in too many developing countries in the world, justice is a commodity the poor simply cannot afford and are in fact consistently victimised by. A reason this is the case is fully investigated in the chapter entitled ‘Colonial legacies and a failure that makes sense’. This chapter is one of the most profound examples of history working in politics today that I have come across. Through his observation of justice systems in the developing world since 1994, Haugen ascertains that these systems are so ineffective because they have had next to no reform since colonial years. In an interview with former Punjab Director- General of Police in India Kirpal S. Dhillon, it is stated that the colonial Indian Police Act of 1861 still governs India up to the publication of the book. The Police Act specifically protected the ruler and not the citizens of the country.

Other examples are used by Haugen to establish how entrenched colonialism and oppression still is in these legal systems. In Malawi, a former British colony, the legal system is still conducted in English, a language which only one percent of the country speaks. This means millions of people are stuck in the legal system often without trial and are unable to defend themselves. Often, the poorest people are randomly picked and abused as scapegoats for the crimes of the wealthy.

Without a functioning legal system that posits democratic justice, efforts to assist the poor in the form of schools and food supplies will not have their full and well-intentioned effect if, for example, girls are too susceptible to becoming victims of violence to be able to walk to school. The need for reformed justice systems in the developing world and a rejection of imposed colonial manifestations of history in these legal systems, cries out from every page of this book. For me, it is a perspective shattering insight.

Haugen’s book is well evidenced by both statistical and case study evidence. Through this convincing argument, the book concludes by stating that although there are huge injustices in the legal systems in the developing world, there are successes from sustained efforts to reform them. One example of this is the huge success of a collaborative legal efforts against child prostitution in the Philippines. Thus, the book ends on a charged yet positive note: there is possible success working with the representatives of justice in the developing world, but a sustained global effort has never been tried to reform these systems wholesale. Therefore, it has never failed.

I would recommend this book to anyone passionate about social justice, a topic which I feel is deeply cloaked in the implications of history in politics.

Anna Shepherd

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