FCO briefs against DFID. Sigh…

While we’re on the subject of Sue Cameron’s awesome Whitehall gossip network, note also her piece yesterday about DFID (or ‘Difid’ as she enchantingly calls it) – which bears all the hallmarks of hostile briefing from King Charles Street. 

Could the horror engulfing Kenya change the balance of power in Whitehall? I am told that questions are being asked at the highest levels about Britain’s “limp-wristed” response to the Kenyan crisis. Senior Foreign Office people blame their colleagues at the Department for International Development for not realising that Kenya was, as one put it, “about to blow”. Difid is now the major arm of British policy in Africa because it has all the money for development.

Yet I am told its people are unwilling to discuss abuses of aid – which are widespread – and have little idea about good governance and how to bring it about. Now there are inquiries as to why pressure was not brought to bear on the Kenyan government. Why was aid not restricted? Why were Kenyan politicians – such as vice-president Stephen Kalonzo, now in London – not banned from visiting? We have spinelessly allowed him in even though Kenya has just declared Sir Edward Clay, our former high commissioner to Kenya, persona non grata. The outspoken Sir Edward once attacked “the massive looting and grand corruption” of Kenya. He accused Kenyan officials of behaving “like gluttons” and “vomiting on the shoes” of donors. His successor Adam Wood, a Difid man, has been more emollient. But change may be coming. Two months ago Mark Malloch Brown, Africa minister, said: “We have a development policy for Africa; is it time that the UK also has a foreign policy for Africa?” David Miliband, foreign secretary, shares this view. Difid’s ascendancy, which owes much to Gordon Brown’s influence, may be ending.

Now I’m not saying donors have their approach a hundred per cent right in Kenya. I’m unconvinced, for example, by arguments that Kenya was a suitable country for direct budget support; and I think donors have a lot of work to do to set out a clearer theory of how they work in developing countries that, like Kenya or Nigeria, could go either way – lift-off or basket case – especially given that such work has more to do with the quality of influence and political engagement than with the amount of aid spent.

But if it is indeed the case that DFID staff are “unwilling to discuss abuses of aid”, as the article charges, then it’s a bit of a stretch to see how bringing the debate to the diary column of the Financial Times is likely to coax DFID into a franker discussion.  What kind of idiot thinks that this sort of approach will lead to policy coherence between the two departments?

The great majority of officials at FCO and DFID understand that their ability to work together is of paramount importance to their closely overlapping – if still distinct – missions.  But in each department there are still a fair few old-fashioned turf warriors who know exactly which buttons to push in the other department to guarantee a rise. 

Each time they press those buttons – especially in public – it makes life a bit harder for those officials who understand the need for the two departments to cohere with one another, by confirming the old stereotypes as to why you can’t trust DFID / FCO [delete as applicable]. 

Briefing stuff like this to the FT might be fun, but it does nothing to advance either department’s mission.  The handful of turf warriors at each end of St James’s Park need to grow up.