The year was 1875. Trillions of locusts swarmed through nearly 200,000 square miles across the American Midwest and literally ate everything—from gardens and fields to fence posts and the verywool off of live sheep. Entire livelihoods of families were destroyed, leaving them completely impoverished. Even though this plague of locusts happened in a time and era that seems long gone, there is a new plague of locusts that has invaded our modern world—the everyday plague of violence.
You are probably very aware of the poverty in the world. What you may not be so familiar with is the violence that exists across the developing world. Have you ever considered that these two injustices are directly correlated to one another? In the compelling, even revolutionary book The Locust Effect, Gary Haugen (CEO and President of International Justice Mission) argues that the end of poverty will also see the end of violence. Threat of violence is part of everyday life for the poor—just as much as hunger, disease or malnutrition.
Consider this scenario: you are walking to your car after dinner with a friend and are attacked. Your attacker demands all the money you have on hand. You see a gun appear and the attacker says you will be killed if you refuse. What do you do? The truth is, the developing world has functional justice systems that are aimed to protect the people. Certainly, these systems are not perfect and there are occasions where they do not function at their best. However, in the developing world, the justice systems do not protect the people at all. In fact, parents often teach their children to run from the police, rather than run to them for help.
There are many powerful stories described and appalling statistics conveyed in The Locust Effect. Perhaps the most powerful statistic being that there are 4 billion people in the world that live outside the protection of the law. Let that sink in for a second. That is 4 billion individual human lives that do not have the security of being protected from violence; 4 billion people, each with their own friends and families, are being held back from reaching their full potential due to fear. This staggering statistic has many implications. This means that 4 BILLION PEOPLE are at greater risk of being trafficked for labour or sexual exploitation, at risk of having their land confiscated, at risk of being wrongfully imprisoned. Injustice is birthed out of the law not doing its job—protecting the people. On the other hand, peace, justice, security and a good livelihood flourish when people are protected by the public justice systems.
This book is a call to arms, a wake up call for anyone who is passionate about ending injustice. Haugen takes the reader on a harrowing journey into the depths of poverty. Once you begin this journey - travelling into the darkness that is poverty and violence - there is no turning back. Haugen recounts the history of poverty and violence, while in the end also gives us hope and direction for the way forward.
It must be noted that this book is not for the faint hearted. At times, it may devastate you, break your heart but then embolden you to bring about change the world that we live in. As heavy as this read is, it does not leave you overtaken with grief. It leaves you with a sense of urgency and hope. Essentially, every justice worker wants to bring about structural change: to change the very structure of societies so that injustice can be obliterated even before it has a chance to begin. And structural change can only happen when public justice systems protect their people from the threat of every day violence. This book truly supplies us with the education we need to bring about this sustainable change that is desperately needed throughout the world.
Annie Stewart is an intern with International Justice Mission.
You can find out more about The Locust Effect here.