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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 11:04 GMT
African teens split over lower voting age
Voting in South Africa
Voters will return to the polls in South Africa later this year
Teenagers in Africa have given a mixed reaction to proposals to lower the voting age in some countries below 18.

The opposition coalition in Tanzania has proposed the change in the law in that country, arguing that with falling life expectancy young people should have more of a say.

There are also already a number of Children's Parliaments throughout Africa, and some people feel enfranchising the young could help tackle some of the problems in African politics, such as corruption.

"I absolutely agree that the age should be lowered," student Dusfat Mnganisa, a Tanzanian studying at Tangaza University College in Nairobi, told BBC World Service's Africa Live programme.

"If you go back in Tanzania, especially where I come from, you find that there has been the effect of Aids.

"Taking that in account, you find a lot of young people are forced to take responsibility for their family.

"If they have that responsibility, why should they be denied from the political arena, trying to discuss what is going to happen to them?"

Too much responsibility

Tanzanian opposition spokesman Dr Sengondo Mbugi told Africa Live that, because education in Tanzania finished at the age of 14, it was "illogical" that teenagers were unable to vote for another four years.

Mr Mnganisa said that his own experience backed this up.

"At the age of 16, I was already leading a youth movement," he said.

"If I was able to do that in the church arenas, why wasn't I able to do that in the political arena?"

However, others said they disagreed, arguing it was too much responsibility to be allowed to vote at so young an age.

Fellow student Erika Alenga said that he was "not at all" interested in politics at the age of 15.

"I was just thinking about drama, and other things that most of my age group think about," he said.

Voting in Dar es Salaam
Politicians recruit children to carry guns and shoot people... letting these very same children choose their leaders is the least they could do
Dimandja, USA

"At that particular time, most of your concentration is not on politics - it's on other matters."

And Rwandan Taiz Aida said despite her country being torn apart by civil war as she was growing up, she was only vaguely what the conflict was about.

"I didn't even know what politics was at all," she added.

"I didn't know what was going on - what were the causes of the war."

Teenagers in South Africa - where elections are due within four months - were similarly split.

"At that age [15], it was like, 'what's the latest programme on television, the latest fashion trend'," said 18-year-old Shaegun Iresun.

Mr Iresun also admitted that even now he was legally allowed to vote, he did feel well-informed enough to decide who to vote for.

"I will have to find out about what the different parties in South Africa are offering," he said.

"My vote will make a difference."

Fifteen-year-old Nazli Arnold said she felt the voting age should be lowered to 16.

"I'm interested in what's going to happen to our future, what it's holding for us," she stated.

"I should have the right to be voting."



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