Oct 6, 2023 Article

A Conversation with Carnegie Ethics Fellow George Shadrack Kamanda

In a new interview series, Carnegie Council editor Alex Woodson speaks with members of the inaugural Carnegie Ethics Fellows cohort.

ALEX WOODSON: Was there a moment for you that made you interested in ethics in your professional life?

GEORGE KAMANDA: It is a tricky proposition to single out a moment that made me interested in ethics in my professional life. The cumulation of my experiences, however, growing up in the then-war-torn country of Sierra Leone and the social, cultural, and political challenges the brutal ten-year civil war left behind stands out. The aftermath of the war left scars yet to mend in the minds of the citizenry and for many, including myself, that painful memory lingers on in different forms and different ways. And learning about the deep-seated reasons that brought about the war gave me a cautious perspective on social change and governance.

In the years after the war, I have been able to examine the positives and the negatives of nation-building, what it means to be a citizen in an underdeveloped nation, and by extension, what it takes to make a such country work for its populace. History shows that greed, corruption, poor governance of natural resources, poverty, and tribalism were the root causes of the war in Sierra Leone. So today, I am committed to channeling my pain and dissent to make sure events like that never happen again. I am committed to advocating the need for and reintroduction of civic education for all and campaigning in support of government-citizen partnerships to help foster sustainable national development.

ALEX WOODSON: How did you find out about Carnegie Ethics Fellows? Why did you think it would be a good fit for you?

GEORGE KAMANDA: I had been an avid consumer of Carnegie Council’s written publications for several years before applying to be a Carnegie Ethics Fellow. In undergrad, I took an Introduction to Ethics and International Politics course where the professor was a huge fan of the Council’s Ethics & International Affairs (EIA) journal; several of our required readings in the course were essays and articles from the journal. Following that course, I kept reading articles from EIA while also following the Council’s work via its social media handles. These articles and the Council’s work around Global Ethics Day inspired me to apply for this prestigious fellowship.

I have long been fascinated by the role of ethics and its integral role in shaping the discourse of democratic governance, international affairs, and leadership. In addition, my insatiable desire to learn and improve my ethical leadership skills coupled with my long-term goal to educate and empower a responsible and ethical citizenry in my country inspired my decision to apply. Upon completion of the Fellowship, I know this program will benefit me and advance my long-term career aspirations. I am humbled and privileged to have been selected as part of the inaugural class of fellows.

"African nations must restore their declining citizenship in the networked age. It requires the proper application of constitutionalism and democratic governance and the knowledge that everything rises and falls at the doorstep of ethical leadership and responsible citizenship."

ALEX WOODSON: In October 2020, you published your third book,Citizenship Reimagined: The Case for Responsible Whole Citizenry in Sierra Leone. What does it mean to be a “responsible citizen”?

GEORGE KAMANDA: Responsible citizenship as I conceptualize it in my book, 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. In essence, responsible citizens are engaged, active, and objective on matters of governance and participation in nation-building irrespective of their individual, social, political, or tribal affiliations. African nations must rebuild their civic ideals and restore their declining citizenship in the networked age. It will require the proper application of the tenets of constitutionalism and democratic governance devoid of political corruption and negative externalities. By extension, African leaders and their citizenry must realize that everything rises and falls at the doorstep of ethical leadership and responsible citizenship. This in essence is the message of my book, Citizenship Reimagined.

I also founded an organization, the Necessity Firm, which focuses on citizenship in Sierra Leone. It seeks to shape and empower “whole citizens” who are both engaged and objective in nation-building and governance regardless of their social, political, or tribal affiliations. With a closer look, the four pillars of my work at the firm (character education, citizenship, advocacy, and mentorship) support and advocate for a leading role of ethics and civic education in rebuilding our civic ideals and restoring our declining citizenship.

ALEX WOODSON: Related to the previous question, does being a responsible citizen mean something different in Sierra Leone as compared to the U.S. or England?

GEORGE KAMANDA: Citizenship is everyone’s responsibility. Generally speaking, I would say no because responsible citizens here in the U.S. or globally (UK or in my country, Sierra Leone) are expected to support and defend their nation’s constitution, stay informed on the issues affecting their community, participate in the democratic process, respect and obey the rule of law, participate in one’s community, and respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.

In essence, responsible citizens anywhere have a civic duty and sense of responsibility to engage their governance systems. While these tenets are commonplace or generic, however, I am equally aware that citizens around the world exercise their rights and responsibilities differently and in different ways. These tenets speak to the strength and unity needed in diversity that makes responsible citizenship an invaluable ingredient in building a just, equitable, and ethical society.

ALEX WOODSON: Your organization, the Necessity Firm, also focuses, in part, on education and mentorship. What are some ways that young leaders can help the next generation? 

I am a firm believer that young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but today. In my perspective, with the Fourth Industrial Revolution changing the way we work, lead, serve our communities, and live, and with the next generation entering a more networked workforce, we must first redefine what it means to be a leader. I believe doing this will help scale up the prospects and opportunities the next generation is likely to face. This way, young leaders can better serve the next generation as they further empower themselves.

Next, education and mentorship are two powerful instruments we can use to unlock the potential of the next generation. Young leaders today must not shy away from the idea of mentoring and educating the next generation, especially in areas of civics, science, technology, and innovation or STEM-related areas. It is also important to help young people build soft and interpersonal skills for professional development. Finally, young leaders must also work with the next generation to contribute to improving the state of the world in their various human endeavors while also helping them to navigate the volatility, uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity of our global world order.

George Shadrack Kamanda is a member of the inaugural cohort of Carnegie Ethics Fellows. He recently received his Master of Studies in diplomatic studies from the University of Oxford and is author of Citizenship Reimagined: The Case for a Responsible Whole Citizenry in Sierra Leone.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this article are those of the Fellow and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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