Book Review: Damned Nations: Greed Guns Armies and Aid

Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies, and Aid. By Samantha Nutt. McClelland & Stewart, 272 pages, $29.99This book is a culmination of two decades of Samantha Nutt’s works in the field of war and human rights.  She wrote this book to challenge prevailing assumptions about the factors that lead to war, and what we might do differently. Being an infant in this field of war and humanitarian issues, this book has rapidly nourished my growth into a young man who now has a clear understanding of the factors that lead to war, methods which develops aid programs and the importance of social change through education especially the education of women.

Nutt, in her book shares with us her experience of her presence in some of the most hellish places on earth from Somalia and Congo to Iraq and Afghanistan. Combined with her experience, Nutt excellently analyses the problems of current policies in humanitarian aid and how rich countries are not doing enough to stop arms flowing into the war-torn areas around the world. Arms distribution argues Nutt is one of the main reasons why peace in this war-torn countries is far from being accomplished. She writes ‘Peace development and security will remain stubbornly out of reach for any civilian population choking on weapons fed to them by countries with eighty times their GDP.’ Her fight is not merely with government officials or CEO of multi-national companies, it includes us all. Speaking of her own country, Nutt writes ‘Canada, which is among the world's top 10 arms exporters, has had one of the lowest international arms transparency ratings.’ Because of this, we have all became a part of the problem as Nutt puts it  ‘When our national pension funds profit from this social malaise, and when our prevaricating governments — wittingly or not — would rather give a one-fingered salute than open the books on what, precisely, is being shipped to whom, we too have become part of a very sinister equation.’ The terrible truth affirmed by Nutt is that we are all consumers of war.

In dealing with issues concerning humanitarian aid, Nutt cuts right to the chase. She exposes the lack of distinction and clarity there is when Armies are the agents primarily responsible for carrying out aids. Nutt says emphatically concerning this issue that ‘The business of saving lives is no longer distinct from taking them’ and ‘Security interests trumped humanitarian and development concerns’.  This has led to the erosion of humanitarian space and the security forces taking up this role only breeds more hatred in the minds of the local citizens because some are deeply convinced that the occupiers are the enemy.

Nutt highlights the selfishness of aid organizations, large and small who serve their own fundraising objectives rather than serving those in need. She exposes the wasteful nature of volunteer tourism in which gawkers and do-gooders are unable to resist the urge to do something. Whilst their motives are good and commendable, it is better long-term if the local people could be employed to the working positions rather than short-term volunteers.  Also says Nutt ‘Ethical, responsible developments programs serve the needs of communities first, not the yearnings of students in their gap years.’

Nutt is not opposed to aid but speaks realistically that aid, ‘is an imperfect response to a violently imperfect world. She continues, ‘aid can be enormously beneficial in improving education and health, strengthening governance, and promoting social stability. Aid has the potential to be of tremendous value in tackling systemic injustices and inequities, and in curbing deaths from war, famine, and natural disasters. The challenge is in knowing which factors contribute to the various sides of this equation.’

There are much to be said of this book but to reduce its longevity I’ll conclude with some of the practical solutions Nutt presents to some of the issues she stresses. Nutt suggests that ‘When making decisions about who and what to give to, look for organizations and initiatives that directly improves woman’s lives through community based development’. Nutt is fully convinced that ‘Local women’s organizations are critical to the struggle against violence and injustice, and women and girls born into environments hostile to their full and equal participation as citizens have waited long enough.’ Also she appeals for Electronic companies to make more efforts in naming their suppliers, complete their chain supply audits, and improve transparency to minimize conflict minerals. For Nutt education is key, especially education of women as suggested by the moving story she documents. ‘Has any of this helped you? All this humanitarian effort (Nutt asks a woman who has had her share of the problems of war and have been enrolled into a development program). She stooped to the ground and wrote her name on the sand and then said next I will write my sons name.’

A Somalian boy looks out over the Seyidka settlement for the famine stricken near the capital Mogadishu in September 2011.K.Oni

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