With Great Powers Comes Great Responsibility

About Eritrea - History & Culture

It was Winston Churchill who said, “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have”. Everyone has a duty to be a responsible citizen. But, unfortunately, not everyone takes this responsibility seriously. There are plenty of people in the world who do not know what being a responsible citizen means and these are the very people who destroy our communities. Being a responsible citizen results in a happy and harmonious community – if everyone else does the same.

Being a responsible citizen covers many areas – some of them are legal obligations, some social and some moral. Of course, because not all of them are legal obligations, being a responsible citizen is not as simple as staying within the law. In fact, to be a truly responsible citizen, we sometimes must go out of our way to do things which help our society – give a little of our time and effort for the greater good.

No one can be a responsible citizen without staying within the law. It is as simple as that. Criminals, by their very nature, do not behave as responsible citizens. Laws exist to protect citizens, the communities they live in and their property. So to be a responsible citizen, we must respect these laws and abide by them. Harming others or others’ property is not compatible being a good citizen.

On the other hand, social obligations really form the bulk of being a responsible citizen. To be a responsible citizen, we should help our communities and those who live in them. Accordingly, being a responsible citizen encompasses things such as volunteering.

For instance, volunteering for the Samaritans is a noble job to do and one which is certainly needed. The elderly lady who lives alone may need someone to do her shopping and this demonstrates responsible citizenship just as much as volunteering in an organization.

Other social obligations of being a good citizen include things such as being involved in our communities. This may be demonstrated by being on the school parent teacher association or the village hall committee. It may be as simple as attending events organized by these people.

Moral obligations of being a responsible citizen are harder to pin down because different people have different moral codes. But the one place we can all start is in helping the environment.

The environmental problems society is facing are of our own making and we all have a moral obligation to do what we can to change this. By living as environmentally friendly as possible, we can help fulfill our moral obligations of being a responsible citizen. For years the government of Eritrea has been working on promoting summer campaigns by high school students to participate in environmental changes and through this, young Eritrean students are trained to be good citizens of the nation, whilst protecting the environment.

Moreover, education is, most of the time, viewed as a prerequisite to good citizenship, in that it helps citizens make good decisions. Education has long been recognized as a central element in development (Bacchus,1992).It is considered as a vital input in modernization where the developing countries like Eritrea began the drive for social and economic development since independence (Rena, 2003). Education is perceived as a means not only of raising political and social consciousness, but also of increasing the number of skilled workers and raising the level of trained man power (Rena, 2002). These benefits, together with the visible gains for individuals from education, stimulated an unprecedented growth of enrolment over the last 26 years of Eritrea’s independence. It is for this very reason that the Ministry of Education, as of 2015, has decided to incorporate Citizenship Education Programs into its curriculum in the hope of enlightening the youth. This Citizenship education programs are to start from the 1st grade and continue through elementary, junior and high school. Citizenship education is meant to remind the youth of this nation’s glorious past the armed struggle, independence and development. In doing so, the youth are equipped with adequate knowledge of the social, economic, cultural, and political situation of their country as well as common accepted values and character traits of their society.

Eritrea, is home to nine ethnic groups. There is no doubt that Eritrea is aware that the ideal type of citizen is shaped by education. In line with this, it has been providing 12th Grade education in Warsay Yikeallo Secondary School in Sawa for the last four years to integrate the students and promote unity (Rena, 2005). The national goal of unity in diversity must be realized through the approach that is followed in the Eritrean educational policies, programs and practices.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote that men who serve the state making “no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense...are commonly esteemed good citizens.” Orit Ichilov notes that children “tend to perceive the government in the image of an ideal father that is benevolent and protective. At this stage, the good citizen is characterized as one who, through his behavior, proves himself worthy of the love and protection of the government rather than one possessing certain political obligations and rights.” Through their early school years, children usually continue to think in apolitical terms of their citizenship, expressing loyalty by their desire to remain in their country due to an attachment to its beauty, wildlife, and good people. By age twelve or thirteen, they begin referring more to political qualities, such as the nature and values of the regime. High school seniors define the good citizen primarily in political terms. Some students define good citizenship in terms of standing up for what one believes in.

Joel Westheimer identifies the personally responsible citizen (who acts responsibly in his community, e.g. by donating blood), as the participatory citizen (who is an active member of community organizations and/or improvement efforts) and the justice-oriented citizen (who critically assesses social, political, and economic structures to see beyond surface causes) as parts of being a “good citizen”.

Sometimes incentives prevail over desires to be a good citizen. For example, many people avoid coming forth as witnesses in court cases because they do not want to deal with the inconvenience. Aristotle makes a distinction between the good citizen and the good man, writing, “...there cannot be a single absolute excellence of the good citizen. But the good man is so called in virtue of a single absolute excellence. It is thus clear that it is possible to be a good citizen without possessing the excellence which is the quality of a good man.

Across the world and in every nation, many organizations attempt to promote “good citizenship.” For example, in our country, the National Union of Eritrean Youth and students, from time to time, does hold workshops in hopes of trying to dispense the idea of being a good citizen. The organization is dedicated to improving the skills and awareness of Eritrean youth. The organization seeks to strengthen and improve the youth in all aspects at the regional, national and international levels.

At the end of it all, with a great power come great responsibility-hence my title above- this is a fundamental concept of being a citizen. As a citizen, you are entitled to a wide variety of privileges. But with these liberties comes a large responsibility.

Being a responsible citizen should not be a hard thing but it should be something which occasionally requires a little extra effort. This is because being a responsible citizen is, at its core, about being a less selfish person, and putting the needs of society before your own needs. It does not mean you have to sacrifice all your free time to volunteer or help others, but it does mean taking a little time to think about the impact of your actions on others. Great nations are built by even greater citizens. If we, as a nation are to be great, first we as citizens have to be great.