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The Locust Effect

This is a book you should avoid reading, if you do not want to have nightmares, that is. The Locust Effect is a book that starts hard and never lets go. From the word go, it offers a gruesome description of awful crimes, crimes that you will find reprehensible. And yet, they are nothing less than what many people suffer every day, especially in poor and underdeveloped countries. The authors, Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, make it clear that ‘if you are reading this book in a state of reasonable security and peace without fear of being enslaved, imprisoned, beaten, raped, or robbed, it is either the case that you are in a place of isolation far away from human beings, or you are the beneficiary of a system that is protecting you from the violent impulses of human beings that are around you’.

The first two chapters of The Locust Effect were challenging for me. Even people hardened by work in the field cannot avoid feeling the pain and anguish gushing out of the stories recounted. Sordid tales of victims of rape, forced labor, land seizure, and abusive police find their way into the pages. What is worse, these are not handpicked stories to make you feel bad. The authors did nothing more than choose amongst thousands of such sad events.

I am writing this book review in Nairobi, Kenya, where I lived most of the past two decades. It is sad to recognize that this kind of violence far too often around me. Some of the stories in the book are from faraway places – Peru, India – yet they sound so familiar. Why it is that our societies seem to nurture violence instead of common living?

Haugen is the founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM) while Boutros is a federal prosecutor with the USA Department of Justice. They explain that violence is a daily experience for the poor. It seems like violence is at the very core of being and for those persons, they consider their victims unimportant – a person is considered of little worth. The authors believe that unless violence is addressed as a global problem affecting the poorest, no matter how much economic and political support is given toward development and eradication of poverty, the effort will not be successful.

This thesis might seem farfetched, and not all would subscribe to it. However, Haugen and Boutros are worth listening to because of their extensive experience. The International Justice Mission is an international human rights agency that supports local, indigenous advocates providing direct services to impoverished victims of violent abuse and oppression in the developing world. IJM supports teams of local lawyers, investigators, social workers, and community activists who work full-time to help poor neighbors who have been enslaved, imprisoned, beaten, sexually assaulted, or thrown off their land. One might not accept Haugenís thesis, but the claims he makes in the book come from a wealth of experience – personal and corporate – hard to ignore.

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After the first chapters, the reader is left thinking, ‘I am inadequate’. If this is the situation of so many countries, and indeed it is, what could I possible do to change it? The reader is simply overcome by the magnitude of the stories. After all, it is clear that someone benefits from this state of affairs. In many countries the elite do not need a functioning security and justice system. They can buy security, and certainly can buy the judiciary. At the same time, they need insecurity and uncertainty in the public justice system. In this way they cannot be held accountable for the injustice they fuel. The elite are not simply indifferent to the cry of the poor, to the brokenness of the justice system. They prefer it and actively oppose any tentative indication of change.

The authors disagree with anyone feeling overwhelmed by the events presented in the book. It is possible to change the situation. In chapter ten, the authors give a few examples of how broken the justice systems in countries like the USA, France and Japan were, just a few decades ago. And these changed for the better. It is possible to work side by side with victims and with local law enforcement personnel to try and change the way the justice systems work.

The last two chapters of The Locust Effect offer a glimpse of hope. A positive change will be hard to come by. ‘Building effective public justice systems in the developing world is costly, difficult, dangerous, and unlikely’, the authors say. But it is not impossible. Already there are thousands of volunteers who do their best to make things work. There are also uncountable lawyers, police officers and judges that try to make the system work, even putting their own lives in danger.

Notwithstanding the difficult chapters, this book is worth reading. It opens a window on a situation often misreported, mostly unknown, and yet a vital point for those who want to support the journey towards justice for all.

(Giuseppe Caramazza)

Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros, The Locust Effect, Oxford University Press, pp.346, New York, 2014.

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