The Locust Effect

In 'The Locust Effect,' Gary Haugen not only challenges our idea of poverty, but proposes an entirely new solution.

Just a few pages into Gary Haugen’s new book, The Locust Effect (released yesterday February 4), you will realize that you are reading something significant. By the end of the book, it seems obvious that both the goal and result of this book will be to significantly reshape how we think about anti-poverty efforts as policymakers, advocates and individuals.

Gary Haugen has long been at the forefront of mobilizing churches to take up the cause of justice as central to the heart of God, and the life of a Christian. The organization he founded, International Justice Mission, is at the vanguard of promoting human rights and relieving oppression. Now, due in large part to Gary’s work and influence (along with others like Ron Sider, Rich Stearns, Bill Hybels and John Stott), the idea of justice is embraced by our churches, and has great cache in the broader culture. With The Locust Effect—Haugen’s opus for not just Christians, but all people—we are urged to move beyond just the idea of justice, and asked to take the issues of justice seriously.

Haugen’s message is simple and stark: the enduring threat and persistent reality of everyday violence against the poor undermines and even reverses much of the efforts to lift people out of extreme poverty. As the lead UN investigator in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, Haugen’s job was to “assemble…a very precise picture of how mass murder actually happens.” During the investigation process, Haugen came to understand that “these very impoverished Rwandans at their point of most desperate need, huddled against those advancing machetes in that church, did not need someone to bring them a sermon, or food, or a doctor, or a teacher, or a micro-loan. They needed someone to restrain the hand with the machete—and nothing else would do.”

As Haugen makes clear, the poor do not just face violence from war and conflict. In fact, according to the U.N., 4 billion people live outside the protection of law. Every day, they live in fear of violence that threatens their livelihood, dignity and safety. This everyday violence comes in the form of sexual violence, violent land seizures, forced labor and police abuse--violence that affects individual people. People like Laura, a 10-year-old girl in Korogocho who was on her way to school when she was sexually assaulted. Or Gopinath from Tamil Nadu who borrowed $10 for food, and was forced to work in a rock quarry for fifteen years to pay off the debt. Or Susan, a Ugandan woman who was already struggling to care for her three grandchildren, and had her home destroyed and her land occupied by thugs.

Like a plague of locusts, Haugen argues, this everyday violence robs people of what they have, and destroys much of their potential. So efforts to provide aid to the poor without addressing the constant threat of violence that pervades their lives can “seem like a mocking.”

The reality of The Locust Effect requires then that policymakers and development institutions pursue policies and projects that build the law enforcement capacity in areas of poverty. Where law enforcement is non-existent or overwhelmed, unwilling to carry out justice, or subject to bribes and coercion, the locusts swarm. The good news is that we have seen localities with broken, unjust law enforcement systems develop effective, just systems. Haugen tells us the story of Cebu, Philippines, where a 5-year, IJM-initiated partnership with local law enforcement, political institutions and non-governmental organizations led to a drastic 79% decline in minors available for commercial sex, and charges brought to more than 100 suspected sex traffickers.

The work of increasing the capacity of law enforcement is not sexy though, and its fruits are often hidden by the restored order of things: the ten-year-old girl who feels secure, and the criminal who is afraid of justice. In an age when it seems activism can become as much about how we view ourselves as it is about systemic change, the broad message of The Locust Effect is that we need to dig deeper. We need to take justice more seriously. The problem with institutions is that they are difficult to start and slow to change, but their power is that when directed towards human flourishing, it changes communities and benefits generations.

So what if, in addition to our child sponsorship programs and short-term mission trips, we also told the UN that, unlike last time, the new Millennium Development Goals have to address violence.

We can also make sure our politicians here at home understand this. A joint State Department/Department of Justice effort to train law enforcement officials in the localities where violence is most rampant might not make it into political advertising commercials, but we should make sure our local Member of Congress understands we expect their ideas and support for addressing the problem of violence in the poorest regions of the world. We can make sure our foreign aid budget takes into account whether or not recipient nations are fighting everyday violence, or actually allowing or even facilitating the conditions that allow this violence to take place.

When we take justice seriously, we begin to understand that sometimes the best activism does not result in our glory, but in the success of institutions put in place to uphold the rule of law and promote the common good for the people they serve.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how refreshing it is to see a Christian leader of a Christian organization using his gifts in this way—to influence the world rather than separate himself from it; to speak into the halls of power not as an opponent, but as a participant, a contributor. It reminds me of the call of Jeremiah 29 to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Freedom from violence (peace) and freedom from poverty (prosperity) have always been tied together. Gary Haugen has renewed this wisdom for us in our time. The locusts have had their day, but their time is now running short. Let us pray that this book will lead to the prospering of many nations, the lifting of oppression from many brothers and sisters, and that the reign of justice will be made ever more present in our time.

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