I want to begin by asking several questions. As a nation, what would we lose if we put Country First? What would we gain if we put Country First? From where I stand, we stand to lose nothing but gain everything when we seek the common good and put “Country First” in all our human endeavors. So, what do I mean to put Country First?
“Country First” means different things to different people. For this book’s purpose, putting Country First means the highest form of heroism, patriotism, sacrifice, and public service in all its forms. It is giving a man or woman with the most basic form of education, from the most remote places an equal opportunity to live, and thrive in their chosen human endeavors. It is as easy as volunteering your time in a charity, helping the homeless, or organizing weekly sessions to tutor less-fortunate children with no means for extra-curricular teaching. More so, putting Country First applies to what we all should be doing in making Sierra Leone a better nation.
Putting Country First could take many forms, but regardless of its forms, it is only realized when we put the common good in front of our many individual interests and affiliations. With this campaign, we stand a chance to win the fight against the politicization of elections, for example—an issue that has plagued our political systems in recent times. Politically, for instance, putting Country First has the advantage of focusing the general citizenry, who, when they vote in an election, will focus on the status of the country rather than the status of a political party. I believe we are one people, and one nation under God. Hence, putting Country First does not mean God second in our national discourse because God directs our nation, whether we endorse it or not. We are one nation under God.
How do we heal the wounds of a society replete with citizens’ apathy or the lack of interest in political activities to a nation buzzing with active citizenry? How does an individual go from being a passive citizen to an empowered citizen, who believes that his or her actions can play a significant role in the sustainable development processes of the nation? To answer these questions, we need to adopt a practical and innovative approach to eradicating citizens’ apathy. I believe we must adopt an approach that will shape and empower a responsible, whole citizenry.
Generally, most people complain or even protest, without understanding their responsibility to effect real and sustainable change. I am confident that if we do our duties as citizens, educate ourselves, and observe the parameters of our rights and responsibilities, our society can rise above its challenges and fulfill its developmental aspirations. To shape and empower a responsible, whole citizenry, we must collectively make civic education accessible, and an invaluable pillar on which we educate our citizens.
What is civic education? Civic education is defined as the study of the theoretical, political, and practical aspects of citizenship and its rights and duties. Civic education and duty are the threads in the fabric of our responsibilities that teach us to be contributing and productive members of society. Every citizen, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, background, and other attributes, has a responsibility to, at the very least, understand how government works on a basic level. This is what responsible, whole citizenship is about in the simplest of terms. Responsible, whole citizenship is informed compassion in action: making our best efforts to understand national issues, to act with objectivity and sensitivity about them, and to change ourselves and our nation for the better.
I am in favor of making civic education accessible for all because of its invaluable role in our education system. I am further assured of its role in preparing a citizenry that is well-equipped and suited to overcome the developmental challenges we are facing as a nation. As Sierra Leoneans, we are all aware of the challenges that citizens’ apathy presents. In today’s world, it is not a matter of how to take the first steps; whether you want to become an empowered citizen is a matter of personal decision. I hope you have or gain the zeal and purpose to become one.
Tags: Citizens. Politics. Civic Engagement. Citizenship. Change. Sierra Leone.
** This piece is chapter from my forthcoming book-The Case for Responsible, Whole Citizenship: People, Politics, and Progress in Sierra Leone.