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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 21:09 GMT
Tanzania: Is the UK radar deal justified?
The UK has given the go-ahead for the sale of a controversial 28m air traffic control system to Tanzania.

The system has been at the centre of a bitter row over the government's commitment to tackling poverty in Africa.

Prime Minister Tony Blair reportedly gave his blessing to the deal, which safeguards 250 jobs on the Isle of Wight.

However, International Development Secretary Clare Short, who is meant to have a veto on deals which endanger "sustainable" development, was said to be fiercely opposed to it.

Is the government right to go ahead with this radar deal? Is it right to sell an expensive system to such a poor country?

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

We'll only regret it should we ever need to go to war with the customer later. That's life, politics and capitalism folks.
Ken, UK

Air traffic control generates money from flight plans and is therefore a source of income

Hugh Kennedy, Germany
Air traffic control over much of Africa is painfully inadequate. There is some in Nairobi but otherwise very little until you get to South Africa. It may seem like a luxury, but aid flights have a small nightmare to cope with when they cross Africa. Having air traffic control generates money from the flight plans processed and is therefore a net source of income. Tanzania is a relatively stable country and an ideal site for such a system. Ideally, there should be a chain of such countries from north to south with good air traffic control.
Hugh Kennedy, Germany

There is no pride in such profit, no honour, no nothing

Ed Manning, UK
This is wasting money that should be going on education and health care. There is something fundamentally wrong with a society that can countenance such decisions. I would rather be free and decent and have a conscience I can live with than make my money off the suffering of others. There is no pride in such profit, no honour, no nothing. What really worries me is that often such deals are supported by export credit guarantees that often means that Joe Public picks up the bill. People say that it is just economics, but if BAE had to live or die on whether its customers paid the bills or not like everyone then they would probably be bankrupt by now. I know that Blair is unlikely to change his mind, but at least if he is not prepared to behave like a Christian could he stop calling himself one.
Ed Manning, UK

Realistically, the cash is better used on an asset which has the potential to improve regional air safety rather than sloshing away in the bank accounts of a handful of Tanzanian politicians.
Adam, UK

I have advocated for sustainable development and poverty reduction since 1986, long before these became accepted as language of governments around the world as priorities for the 21st century. To put the issue in proper perspective: we are talking about less than 1% of total debt burden reduction package of 3 billion. This money will provide performance improvements on national security and the air industry of Tanzania, however poor it may be by international economic measures. Return on investment must be monitored so that previous unsustainable habits are minimised as well.
Vijay K Vijayaratnam, United Kingdom

No honest development economist or advisor would support this

Dr Anthony O'Sullivan, UK
Having spent a year researching issues of trade and poverty, and having visited a number of central African nations, there is no doubt in my mind that this deal is nothing less than wicked. These nations have, since Independence, been ravaged by incompetent and corrupt politicians, Western manipulation, and self-serving aid agencies. Today they are in great need of honest governance, good education and solid infrastructure. One of the greatest needs in Tanzania is for new roads. That the British Government is pursuing this ridiculous 'investment' is indicative that our own aid agency (DIFD) and the government of which it is part, is either naive, stupid or as corrupt as the Tanzanian government. One thing is for sure, no honest development economist or advisor would support this - most of it will end up in corrupt officials' pockets.
Dr Anthony O'Sullivan, UK

Either Tanzania's arm was twisted or Blair stands to gain personally from this

Buza, Tanzania
The more I look at it, the more the deal looks suspicious. It is obvious that either Tanzania's arm was twisted to buy this equipment or that Blair stands to gain personally from this deal. There can't be any other reason.
Buza, Tanzania

The Tanzanians didn't interfere when our government spent 800 million on a Dome instead of helping the people of this country. So we shouldn't interfere with what they do with their money either.
Guy, London

When the government has failed to deliver on transport, health, poverty and education, how could we expect them to deliver on their ethical foreign policy?
Vic Price, Scotland

No, no and no! When is this absurd policy of selling expensive weapons to countries that are struggling to provide basic living conditions to their people going to end?
Tom, Oregon, USA

Tom from Oregon: Since when has an air traffic control system been a weapon?
Richard P, England

We have been cheated by our government who told us we were tightening our belts

Senzige, Tanzania
We have been cheated because we were told by our government for the past six years that we were tightening our belts so that we could get debt relief and be able to invest in social services. But out of the blue the same government decides to use those relief funds. I think it is time for the Tanzanians to vote this government out of office. Unfortunately, the next opportunity to do so is in 2005.
Senzige, Tanzania

With corruption widespread in African governments I would not be surprised if this deal went ahead. Everybody who deals with large projects in this part of the world knows that there is always corruption involved.

There's a lot of non-Tanzanians here who effectively want to enforce their own fiscal opinions upon that country. I wonder how many of those same people have previously protested about foreign interference in a nation's autonomy. Or is it okay to be an imperialist if you wear corduroy and read the liberal press?
M Moran, UK

Tanzania can buy the sophisticated radar system if it feels it needs it. But does it have the capacity to maintain such a sophisticated system? If not, then Tanzania will have to always turn to its British sellers to maintain it. It may not even have the financial means to call upon British experts. In the end it will result in Tanzania having to borrow from the same country that has been trying to reduce its indebtedness and dependency on foreign aid. Ultimately, the decision whether or not to break the country's cycle of indebtedness and dependency on foreign aid is Tanzania's. Its policy of self-reliance as espoused by its founding father, Nyerere, will remain impracticable as long as it does not learn to set its priorities right.
Anthony Musonda, Zambia/Germany

All these bleeding hearts should start minding their own business. If Tanzania wants to spend money on what could be considered a luxury that's their business.
Paul, UK

Tanzania are buying a military grade air control system, yet they have an airforce of eight aircraft. What is the need of this system when they could easily cope with a civilian-style system? Also, what is the point of cancelling 100 million worth of debt whilst selling them a further 28 million of unnecessary equipment? One of the poorest nations in the world is about to get poorer and for no good reason, and the UK is to blame. What makes it worse - Blair refused to voice any disapproval in Prime Minister's Questions. This entire situation is frankly appalling.
Jon Ellison, UK

If Tanzania (or any other country) wants to buy expensive systems, then who are we to tell them not to?

Arun Thenabadu, Sri Lanka
I am not sure what all the fuss is about. If Tanzania (or any other country) wants to buy expensive systems, then who are we to tell them not to? I simply don't understand why people want to play God and want to force decisions on others.
Arun Thenabadu, Sri Lanka

Well, maybe it is to the long-term advantage of Tanzania - 40 million buys a lot of food, I admit, but if the radar is used to establish and support tourism and a local economy for the long term then that is a good investment that will repay itself very quickly. There is a saying - give a man a fish and he will feed his family, give a man a net...
John, USA

Whose economy is more important, the Isle of Wight or Tanzania? I live on the Island so I know whom my vote is with.
Nic, UK

Nic, it's 250 jobs in a country with a social welfare system versus some minimum essentials for people who are poor beyond your understanding of the word.
Joe, Tanzania & USA

Do we really need this? I don't know whom to believe here. Should I believe my own government or a foreign government trying to secure jobs for its citizens?
Tony, Tanzania

If rich countries buy things that they want and need from poor countries, what's wrong with poor countries buying things that they want and need from rich countries?
Cillaty Daboh

The UK government did not force the Tanzanian authorities to purchase this system

Russ, UK
Of course it's wrong. But let's face facts, the decision by the government of Tanzania to spend 28 million on a radar system rather than use the money to attempt to improve the lot of its population is just that, their decision. The UK government did not force the Tanzanian authorities to purchase this system, why should the British government feel compelled to dictate what a foreign power should or should not spend its money on?
Russ, UK

Of course the deal should go ahead. Surely investment in the infrastructure of a country is the best way to combat poverty. Or would the "anti-everything lobby" prefer to deny Tanzania the benefits of economic development that they take for granted?
David Richardson, Scotland

Utter madness

Nick Bowman, UK
No it's utter madness but then it is simply the continuation of a decades' old policy which puts the profits of the armaments industry ahead of humanitarian needs
Nick Bowman, UK

Is it heck madness Nick! Frankly, if they are willing to buy it, then we should be willing to sell it. It's a capitalist society we live in - let's start acting like one instead of some namby-pamby liberal state.

Need anyone be reminded, Tanzania is an independent nation, and free to make her own decisions about what she chooses to buy or otherwise. As a Tanzanian citizen, I say this patronising attitude must stop. Surely we have a better sense of what's needed to guard against terrorism, poaching, smuggling and the like, better than certain quarters of the UK cabinet and media, who have never even set foot in Tanzania. Had they done so, I am sure they would have appreciated that the sheer size of the country, plus our unique set of circumstances, makes such equipment all the more suitable for the task at hand.
Victor, Tanzania

Victor - would you say this air-traffic control system was more important/valuable to your country than, say clean drinking water for 50% of the country's population?
Laurie Knight, UK

Victor from Tanzania is right on the mark. If they don't buy the system from the UK, they'll buy it from the USA or China or Russia or Japan. They've obviously decided they need it. Those who think that such countries are incapable of making informed decisions about matters such as this are guilty of the most insidious form of racism: i.e. hiding their sense of superiority under a veil of compassion.
Marten King, USA

Victor, as a Tanzanian citizen, I really don't see a need considering the fact that we don't even have a robust airline industry. The citizens of Tanzania need the money for essentials such as food. We cannot afford the luxury and it will be of little use.
Joe, Tanzania/ USA

Sure it's justified. It's the same justification that the fat cats of industry (e.g. the rail and water companies) have been using for the last decade or more of putting short-term profits for the few over long-term needs of the many.
Brian, USA

See also:

20 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Tanzania deal cleared
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