“It is one thing to have laws in place, and another for citizens to abide by them and for leaders to uphold them.”

Since gaining independence on April 27th, 1961, Sierra Leone has overcome significant challenges, including one-party rule and a brutal civil war, while making strides towards national development. However, a widening partisan divide and growing citizen apathy or discontent threaten our collective future as a nation. Today, new threats such as inflation and economic challenges, climate change, decline in civic virtue and knowledge, and worsening citizen apathy also confront us. It is crucial for all stakeholders, including citizens, leaders, policymakers, and international partners, to unite and address these challenges in a manner that respects our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Our most pressing challenge, however, lies within us—the mindset we adopt, the decisions we make, the policies we implement, and the ways we engage as citizens and leaders. The ten obligations outlined below serve as a reminder to restore our civic ideals and redefine our citizenship to ensure the survival and prosperity of our democratic future.

Be Informed: Sierra Leone’s democracy hinges on an informed citizenry. Being informed means understanding how government, economy, and society function, knowing the country’s key challenges at home and abroad, and the available policies to address them. Informed citizens engage with diverse perspectives and contribute their own, regardless of political or tribal affiliations.

Get Involved: Sierra Leone’s democracy and its success depend on citizen participation. It’s about rule by the people, not just rule over Active involvement is crucial. While voting is fundamental, true engagement goes beyond casting ballots during elections. Engaging in community discussions, advocating for change, and participating in grassroots movements or supporting emerging leaders’ political campaigns are also vital aspects of democratic involvement.

Stay Open to Compromise: This doesn’t imply weakness, defeat, selling out, or abandoning principles, nor does it mean deciding to never join a political party. It’s about reaching agreements for the common Compromise is essential in situations where power is shared among various parties, as in a democracy. The ability to reach compromise expands political support for agreed-upon measures, crucial for major public policy initiatives. Essentially, legislation, government, and society itself are built on the principle of mutual concession.

Remain Civil: Civility is vital to democracy’s It’s not just a tactic or sentiment, as President George W. Bush noted—it’s a deliberate choice of trust over cynicism and community over chaos. Civility entails manners, respect, courtesy, and politeness. Remaining civil means disagreeing without being offensive or rude. This obligation is invaluable, and as a nation, we must uphold civility in all engagements. The golden rule applies here: treat others as you would like to be treated.

Reject Violence: Violence has no place in our democracy or in our citizenry, except for self-defense, a right recognized both legally and logically. Unlike authoritarian systems, democracy provides peaceful avenues for individuals and groups to pursue their political, social, and economic goals. While success is not guaranteed, participants accept the legitimacy of the process, trusting in the opportunity to succeed over time. Our system must cultivate citizens and leaders who understand that no issue justifies undermining the value of the political or democratic system.

Ethical Standard Matters: In Sierra Leone, we often pride ourselves, citizens and leaders alike, as a nation governed by laws. It is one thing to have laws in place, and another for citizens to abide by them and for leaders to uphold them. Similarly, it is one thing to establish regulations for public and private engagements, and another to consistently enforce and adhere to However, the reality is that democracy requires more than mere legislation to thrive. This underscores the importance of norms or ethical standards, which are not only desirable but essential. Our society relies on these norms, particularly value norms, to guide our conduct, conversations, and character. Restoring our civic ideals and rebuilding our sense of citizenship requires us to engage ethically and responsibly, without hesitation.

Promote the Common Good: Clearly, there are both moral and practical reasons for caring about our fellow Sierra Fairness and equity are central concepts crucial to the smooth and peaceful functioning of our society. Whatever efforts are made to realize the Sierra Leonean dream and promote the common good must be undertaken with these principles in mind. An additional measure should encourage the observance and practice of the principles of unity, freedom, and justice within our rule of law, governance mechanisms, and societal structures.

Respect Government Service: The majority of Sierra Leoneans, particularly its youths, harbor suspicions about governments and political parties and are conflicted about whether democratic governance is fit for purpose given decades of However, for our democratic system to grow and sustain itself, citizens must respect and hold their governments accountable for the services they provide, irrespective of their political or tribal affiliations. Conversely, citizens must also fulfill their obligations by paying taxes, obeying laws, and upholding the effectiveness and efficacy of their public institutions. Respect for government and the services it provides is not a compromise but an act of objectivity.

Support the Teaching of Civics: Supporting the teaching of civics in Sierra Leone is vital for empowering citizens with knowledge about their rights and responsibilities, fostering critical thinking skills, and promoting civic values such as respect for the rule of law. It helps address political skepticism by providing accurate information about the political system and governance structures, and it cultivates the next generation of informed and responsible Ultimately, investing in civics education is essential for building a more inclusive, equitable, and democratic society in Sierra Leone.

Put Country First: Put Country First is crucial because it emphasizes prioritizing the nation’s interests above personal or group interests. This approach fosters national unity, resilience, and progress by promoting cooperation and collective action towards common goals. It encourages individuals to set aside differences and work together for the betterment of Sierra Leone, thereby strengthening social cohesion and stability. Ultimately, embracing the principle of “Country First” is essential for building a prosperous and sustainable future for all Sierra Leoneans.

Takeaways and Action Steps

  1. For Sierra Leone’s democracy to thrive, it’s essential for all of us to fully embrace our shared obligations and responsibilities.
  2. As citizens, we must protect the constitution for the constitution to protect
  3. It is okay to compromise on methods, it is not okay to compromise on
  4. Our generation knows so much about their rights but too little about their
  5. Sierra Leone’s democracy will endure only if obligations join rights at the core of a widely shared understanding of citizenship.

George Shadrack Kamanda is a diplomatic and legal adviser at the Permanent Mission of Sierra Leone to the United Nations in New York. He holds a Master of Studies degree in Diplomacy from the University of Oxford, a JD from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, and a post- graduate certificate in International Human Rights Law from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. George is a 2023-2025 Carnegie Ethics Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, where his research focuses on ethics in international affairs, international migration, and ethical leadership. He is also the founder of the Necessity Firm, a not-for-profit firm based in Sierra Leone, which promotes civic education, character education, mentorship, and advocacy. George is an accomplished author and, in October 2020, published his third book, “Citizenship Reimagined: The Case for Responsible Whole Citizenry in Sierra Leone.” He is deeply passionate about Sierra Leone and specializes in matters of responsible citizenship and ethical leadership. George can be found on social media by searching for his full name and for more information and updates on his work via email: [email protected].