Out of Africa
Liberia’s Deputy Representative to the UN Has Come A Long Way from His Modest Roots. Q&A with Remongar Dennis
by Amy Klein
■ Growing up in a village in Grand Bassa County in the west-central portion of Liberia, Remongar Dennis was one of only seven children to survive infancy in what would have been a family of 13. He was the only child in his family to go to school. Now Liberia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN—Liberia’s highest representative, through which the president conducts multilateral diplomacy—Dennis’ main job is to assist the permanent representative to achieve diplomacy goals and policy objectives for Liberia. Here, he talks to Brain World about his long journey, dealing with a war-torn country, and how innovative educational pro- grams are the best hope for his country—and continent.
BRAIN WORLD: How did you get the opportunity to go to school?
REMONGAR DENNIS: My father was a farmer. In Africa, the men do the hard farm work, then turn the farm over to the women to do odd jobs. My father often went to do odd jobs at the Firestone plantation, which was the largest private-owned rubber plantation in the world. One day they were waiting to get paid and they had to wait in the hot sun for many hours. Finally, my father saw a young man in his 20s coming with a book under his arm. He could have been my father’s child, and he was the paymaster they had been waiting for. So he went back and told my mother the story of the young man, and then he said, “That boy, he’s educated. That’s why he treated us that way. I think education is important.”
BW: So your family sent you to live with one of the women your father had done odd jobs for. Is that common in Liberia?
RD: He was overseeing a store for a woman, and she was very impressed with his performance and his attitude, and she asked him, “Do you have a child I can raise, because you seem like a decent man and I think your children would be like you?” She was not an educated woman. But she was a highly civilized lady—very disciplined—and she raised a lot of children from all over Liberia. She had a passion for doing that. In our culture, if someone gives you a child to raise, they will not visit, so the child will be properly adjusted. So I didn’t see my father for five years.
BW: How did you do in school?
RD: First, I had to learn English, because I didn’t speak it. I was around 13 years old. It was the middle of the year, so I stayed home and learned English with the help of the other two boys living there. So I started in the first grade, but I was advanced after six months. I was usually at the top of my class through high school. I went to the University of Liberia, where I studied economics and sociology. After I graduated, the government had changed, so I ended up at the ministry of foreign affairs. Then I went to Japan and did my master’s in international relations.
BW: How did the war affect you? How does the emotional impact from the war manifest itself during the war? And after?
RD: The instability actually started in the latter 1970s, the coup in April 1980, and the war in 1989. I graduated in December of 1980, so I was in my senior year. I remained at university until I graduated. The war seriously affected a lot of Liberians. [More than 250,000 were killed over the years.] After the war, [in 2003], law had broken down and the country was in a state of lawlessness. People had no interest in the legal system, so they decided to focus on the rule of law to help the country recover from the civil wars. Establishing and promoting the rule of law to assist the country achieve development is one of the government’s main concerns, along with war-affected children. Development will help young people achieve their goals. We have thousands of children suffering from trauma as a result of the war. Many of them lost their parents in the war, and many were affected by the war, and they all need psychological rehabilitation.>>Please Subscribe for Full Article text<<