Photo of George Kamanda

5 questions with… George Kamanda, a law student and civic educator aiming to drive change in Sierra Leone

Over the summer, second-year Case Western Reserve University School of Law student George Kamanda returned to his native Sierra Leone for the first time in nearly eight years. He came to the United States in March 2012 to join his mother and pursue higher education.

But his passion for his country led him back this summer to found a new citizen-empowerment effort, dubbed The Necessity Firm.

Founded on four pillars—citizenship, mentorship, character education and advocacy, all of which Kamanda considers necessities—The Necessity Firm aims to help Sierra Leoneans become “whole citizens.” Kamanda described “whole citizens” as engaged, active and objective when it comes to participation in governance and nation building, regardless of citizens’ political and tribal affiliations.

Supported by a Frederick K. Cox International Law Center summer fellowship, Kamanda officially launched the firm June 22. He is working with 10 others on the firm.

What makes Sierra Leone ripe for such an initiative, Kamanda explained, is that the country has experienced government corruption, resulting in citizens who are apathetic about getting involved. While Kamanda said the new government has made strides toward improving, he hopes he can be part of the push.

“The time is crucial. The time is now. That is why I created my citizenship firm now,” he said, “to be part of that change.”

Though the firm is in its beginning phases, ultimately, Kamanda hopes it will help eradicate citizen apathy in his country and inspire more people to be involved in their government.

To do so, Kamanda has identified three strategies: community-, school- and media-based initiatives.

While in Sierra Leone over the summer, he appeared on television and radio programming to help spread the message about The Necessity Firm.

To boost youth engagement there, he established a school club—with two more planned to start next month—with activities, such as debates, dialogues and quiz events on activism and current affairs, in support of civic engagement. These clubs are for primary- and secondary-school students.

The Necessity Firm also has launched a fellowship program, with seven students total (five of whom come from Saint Philips Primary School, which Kamanda attended), who will attend civic engagement talks and receive tutoring, mentorship and an education stipend.

And the firm will expand its reach to youth with a national conference in the works for April. Kamanda hopes the event will result in a workbook “identifying causes, symptoms and challenges as well as putting forward recommendations/policy suggestions to eradicating and solving the problems of citizen apathy and all its caveats in Sierra Leone.” The workbook would then be shared with relevant government agencies and civil society groups.

Kamanda also hopes to create an online platform for individuals to share articles, essays and research.

In the classroom

After completing a bachelor’s degree in political science at Saint Joseph’s University and a Certificate in International Human Rights at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Kamanda wanted to further develop his critical-thinking skills to better enable himself to simplify complex information. Law, he decided, seemed like an ideal way to do that.

“Law gives you a holistic perspective of the world,” he said.

What drew him to Case Western Reserve University was the school’s international law program. During his time here, Kamanda has focused on diplomatic law.

“I want to be a force that represents my continent proficiently, but at the same time, represent the global society,” he said.

Read on to see how Kamanda answered this week’s five questions.

1. What’s something you don’t know how to do but would like to learn?

I would love to learn how to code because I know it is a creative process, and I consider myself a creative person.

2. Who’s the best teacher you’ve ever had?

I have been blessed to have had many great teachers from primary to university level. My most memorable was my primary school teacher, Mrs. Lamin. I loved all her classes, and I just loved her as a human being. She is forever etched into my mind because I believe God used her to prevent me from going into convulsion in primary school. She noticed something was wrong, and she came to my aid and administered remedy at the right time and prevented me from convulsing. She saved my life!

3. Where do you most like to travel?

I would love to visit Rwanda and Finland. In the case of Rwanda, I would like to experience and study the impressive policies behind the country’s rapid social and economic growth. I hope to do so with a cautiously optimistic outlook while balancing my study of their policies with the tenets of the rule of law and democracy. I will do the same about Finland’s education system. I hope to visit and study the policies that make its education system the best in the world. Whatever I learn, I hope to replicate in the long run with my citizenship firm, and my beloved country, Sierra Leone.

4. If you could go back in time and tell a younger version of yourself something, what would you say?

Obey God and leave all the consequences to him. Build on and relish my difficult upbringings and see it as a blessing, not a curse. I believe everyone has a calling uniquely suited for their life’s story and aspirations. Believe it! Embrace it!

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The invaluable opportunity to interact with students from other schools is palpable. I enjoy that daily, whether I am playing soccer with students from the medical and dental school or being invited to speak on a panel—as I did in the February of last year, discussing the role of the universal declarations of human rights in Africa. These experiences have enriched my time here at Case [Western Reserve].