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Gary Haugen & Victor Boutros: The Locust Effect. Why the end of poverty requires the end of violence.

The Locust Effect. Why the end of poverty requires the end of violence. Gary Haugen & Victor Boutros. OUP 2014. ISBN 9780199937875

This Review was first published in Essentials Autumn 2015

In 1875 trillions of locusts weighing 27 million tons bore down on 200,000 square miles of the American Midwest and wiped out every living plant. Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros show that a similar effect is happening to the world’s poor. As much as they try to work, save for their children’s education, buy small houses (or rooms) to live in, their efforts are consistently and effectively thwarted by an epidemic of violence.

The authors don’t focus on war zones or civil conflicts, although these are devastating enough. They illustrate in pitiful detail the ordinary criminal violence that afflicts the world’s poor – especially in developing countries.

Sexual violence (a “medical emergency” according to Medicine Sans Frontiers), slavery (there are more slaves in the world now than there were during the whole period of the 18th century slave trade), land grabbing, arbitrary detention and torture are some of the features of this violence.


One of the chief reasons it continues mostly unabated is that the poor do not live under the protection of the law. For a number of reasons: the public justice system in the developing world is broken. The police are under trained, under resourced, under paid, and scarce. There are too few prosecutors. There are not enough judges and the court systems are dysfunctional and hopelessly back logged.

Numerous reports by the United Nations, the World Bank and others, report the locust effect on real capital earnings (GDP reduced by up to 14%); human capital (9 million years of disability adjusted life years lost each year); social capital (destroys social fabric and relationships); mental illness.

One big reason the criminal justice systems of the developing world are dysfunctional is that they are carry-overs from the colonial era when police forces were developed to protect the colonial powers, not to care for the ordinary people. The amazing thing is that in many countries no changes have been made after independence.

Private justice systems, (private security, alternative dispute resolution) are being used by elites in the developing world to protect their people and property. Public justice systems continue to decline in usefulness. The biggest obstacle to change is that the elites benefit from the broken public justice system because it protects them from being held accountable.

The massive global movement to address poverty in the developing world over the last 50 years has not made a meaningful effort to address the problem of criminal violence against the poor. Overall almost nothing has been spent on helping criminal justice systems that benefit the poor. So it hasn't been tried and found wanting it has been found hard and left untried.

However there is good news (sort of). The kind of corruption and dysfunction at present in the criminal justice systems of developing counties is pretty much the same as it was in US Japan France and other countries 100 years ago. This is normal. But change happened because of: local ownership and leadership of intentional efforts to change; each situation needed its own specific solutions; community leaders and reform minded elites played a critical role; the priority was to prevent violence; building a well resourced law enforcement capacity was risky; change can happen quickly but usually in punctuated bursts. So there is hope.

The authors provide worked examples of changes that have happened. The authors are part of the International Justice Mission which arose out of a Christian conscience but works with all kinds of people in all sorts of communities. Structural Transformation is one of its methods where coalitions of local people work together to bring about change. Collaborative Casework is an aspect of this. IJM and others have seen wonderful changes take place in a variety of countries. This part of the book is a very encouraging contrast to the horror of the first few chapters.

The authors say that what needs to happen now is to transform the conversation about global poverty so that violence is seen to be a devastating factor; integrate expertise about criminal justice into the conversation; experiment with Projects of Hope which will provide models, examples, and hope for other communities. Especially using versions of Collaborative Casework.

An amazing book. Worth reading, discussing and working out what to do.



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