Yesterday, Andrew Mitchell was the toast of the broadcasters. They have turned on him to an extent today. The news that portions of the £52.25 million given in emergency aid to the starving masses in the Horn of Africa will be distributed in areas controlled by al-Shabaab has forced Mitchell onto the defensive. “We shall have no dealings with al-Shabaab,” he said, and then added that the aid will reach its intended recipients by means other than collusion with the jihadists.
This is an embarrassing moment for Mitchell and, of course, it is vital that money and supplies do not fall into the hands of well-fed fighters. However, it is worth pointing out that Mitchell has always intended to distribute aid in al-Shabab controlled areas of Somalia. In a speech made last year in which he recast the role of DfID as an agent of soft power, he insisted that aid must be used to improve stability in the area, arguing that western generosity would deprive the extremists of their anti-western memes. Food, education and opportunity would replace poverty, ignorance, and Kalashnikovs. So even in this minute of emergency, Mitchell is pursuing long-term policy goals, for better or worse.