By Aad Kamsteeg
There is a Dutch saying: ‘Mopping with the tap running.’ In essence: sometimes we’re too busy addressing the immediate threat that we fail to recognize that our efforts aren’t addressing the root issue. We haven’t turned off the tap and are too focused on the growing puddle on the ground. . Is it possible that this is how we could describe the world’s current efforts in the fight against poverty? There are countless valiant, valuable efforts to reduce poverty in its many forms: fighting hunger, improving education, gender equality, protecting the environment, expanding trade between ‘have’ and ‘have-not’ nations. All necessary efforts and many of them good things, in and of themselves. But is it possible that we’ve missed a piece of the puzzle? A critical component that could markedly increase the impact of these anti-poverty initiatives on a whole.
That’s the argument presented in The Locust Effect, a groundbreaking book written by International Justice Mission President (IJM) and Founder Gary Haugen. Haugen argues that in the absence of a functioning public justice system, anti-poverty initiatives will never be able to have the scale of impact they could and should have. As a Dutch man, I automatically assume that judges maintain the law, and that the police will help me whenever I need extra security. I live under a constitution that protects me, and my rights, through the law. I am safe and help comes when I call. But in many parts of the world that privilege does not exist—especially not for the poor
Did I realize that? No. What’s more, I now know that more than 4 billion of the world’s poorest live outside the protection of the law each day. Without this protection, they are subject to haphazard justice systems that are under-resourced and operating at over capacity. It’s a place where the rich and powerful gain protection because they pay for it, either through bribes or the hiring of their own private security forces. In many parts of the world, where the rich pay for private security, the need for a functioning public justice system that adequately protects that poor lessens.
In 1875, the American Midwest was raided by a swarm of locusts. Spread over an area of more than 300,000 square kilometers, the locusts devoured everything that crossed their path and destroyed all the work of the farmers in the area. Years of hard work disappeared in a matter of hours. All the attempts of the farmers were destroyed by an outside force beyond their control. This is exactly what happens today: there are a lot of excellent attempts to fight poverty, but they are not as effective as they could be simply because the plague of violence goes unaddressed at the structural level.
What does this mean in practice? Women are raped with impunity, children are made into slaves, land is stolen, and men are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention. (We read about it almost daily in the newspapers.) It means that when the poor call for help, no one shows up. Development initiatives intended to alleviate poverty—micro credit loans, free medical clinics, education—are of no use to the widow whose land has been stolen, the slave who can’t leave the brick kiln, or the child afraid to attend school because it is the place she’s been repeatedly sexually abused. Without a functioning public justice system that is willing or able to respond, the powerful oppress the poor by abusing a failing and broken system.
Haugens’ book "The Locust Effect” is a wake-up call. It urges you to act. In this case, as the Dutch say, no more mopping with the tap running. IJM has worked to strengthen justice systems for 15 years, proving that justice for the poor is possible. It works alongside local authorities in developing communities to rescue victims of sex trafficking, forced labour slavery, property grabbing, and child sexual assault. Now we must act, and urge our own governments to get involved to help end violence against the poor.
Aad Kamsteeg is retired now, for years he was the editor of foreign affairs for the ‘Daily Dutch Newspaper’ and foreign commentator at the Evangelical Broadcast. He wrote several books, including ‘Eyewitness in Papua’.