When Cecil Dennis III Met Samuel Doe II: Reconciliation – 36 Years in The Making
Monrovia – Samuel Kanyon Doe Jr. was only three-years-old when his dad led the People’s Redemption Council’s overthrow of the William R. Tolbert, ending decades of Americo-Liberian rule in Africa’s oldest republic. C. Cecil Dennis III, was three-years-old as well.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
“May our fathers’ departure of this earth, and our common interest of peace, bind us stronger together as brothers, regardless of our backgrounds. Today, as Samuel K. Doe, Jr and I plan to talk and subsequently meet, may our common nationalism be the substance of our patriotism – C. Cecil Dennis, III
“We need a special day that should be put aside as a holiday so we can remember our horrific past and all the innocent people that have lost their lives throughout the history of our country, whether in the name of revolution or the civil war. Without such recognition of those who lost their lives, Unity may never be complete” – Samuel K. Doe, Jr.
His father, C. Cecil Dennis II was a popular Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Tolbert government. He and twelve members of Tolbert’s cabinet were taken to a beach, ten days after the coup near a block south of the Barclay army barracks west of the Executive Mansion and executed.
‘You Don’t Know God’
American photojournalist Larry C. Price in a capsule for rarehistoricalphotos.com recalled: “C. Cecil Dennis Jr, faced death very bravely, staring at his killers while awaiting his fate. When he mouthed a prayer that before being shot, a soldier loudly shouted, “You lie! You don’t know God!”
After the order to fire was given, a drunken executioner may have winged him but the other bullets missed altogether, splashing into the Atlantic Ocean behind him. He was the only person still alive after the first barrage of gunfire.
Two more soldiers finally approached and sprayed Cecil with an Uzi and pistol at point-blank range, hitting him in the face, body and head, until he was dead. Each man was later hit with 50 or 60 extra bullets by the drunken soldiers.”
Doe reigned for nearly a decade. On September 9, 1990, he was captured in Monrovia by faction leader Prince Y. Johnson and taken to Johnson’s military base and tortured before being killed and exposed naked in the streets of Monrovia.
Thirty-six years after the coup, the sons of the pair whose path crossed in an eventful but tragic day on April 12, 1980, are making amends of what has gone down as one of the most painful chapters in Liberia’s rugged history.
“Today, in this life of uncertainties – God has made certain – that the sons of former permanent servants of Liberia – come together in the interest of reconciliation and reunification,” Dennis III penned on his Facebook page Monday.
Dennis, III, laments further that for nearly four decades, bureaucratic actions have left Liberians confused about what nationalistic and patriotic duties are.
“But today, the sons of Liberia are coming together to work toward the restoration and the dignity of our nation. May our fathers’ departure of this earth, and our common interest of peace, bind us stronger together as brothers, regardless of our backgrounds.”
C. Cecil Dennis III Optimistic About Future
Both men plan to begin a dialogue in hopes of fostering reconciliation. “Today, as Samuel K. Doe Jr, and I plan to talk and subsequently meet, May our common nationalism be the substance of our patriotism,” Dennis III, says.
“Let me in this public manner, thank Samuel K Doe Jr, for reaching out to me – in response to my quest for peace – for it takes the special grace of God and the love of one’s country to walk the path of peace.
I am humble by your conviction of peace, and I’m looking forward to working with you. Together, we can move our nation into her optimistic future. Long live Liberia and long live the people of our land.”
Asked why it has taken so long for him to reach out to Dennis, Doe Jr, now an Executive Director at the National Port Authority says:
“I think everything in life has a time, as for me personally, it was never difficult because I know exactly what CCD has been through. I’m friends with the Chessons, Tolberts and can’t forget my man Anthony Quiwonkpa, who is at the Ministry of State.”
Doe Jr. says he and his new friend and brother are hoping that other Liberians embrace the reconciliation approach and put the ugly past of Liberia behind.
“We as Liberians have been through a lot, I hope we can inspire people to know and understand that the past doesn’t necessarily dictate the future. It takes a man with strong heart to sincerely forgive, that’s what I think we lack in Liberia.”
Doe Jr. suggests that the national government put aside a special day for the purpose of healing.
“We need a special day that should be put aside as a holiday so we can remember our horrific past and all the innocent people that have lost their lives throughout the history of our country, whether in the name of revolution or the civil war. Without such recognition of those who lost their lives, Unity may never be complete.”
For those in similar predicament but still struggling to let go, Doe Jr. says while everyone has their own way of dealing with personal issues, they have to be sincere within themselves and know that keeping animosity and hatred for someone will eventually take a toll on themselves.
“As Christians, we need to learn how to forgive and move on. As painful as it may seem, they need to reach out to someone who’s in the same circumstances as they are and fellowship with that person, perhaps through that, they will realize that time heals all wounds.”
‘We Are Not Perfect’
For Dennis, reconciling is key and a necessity if Liberia is to move forward.
“Having spoken to Samuel today about the past and what the future holds for us, I am more vigorous in reconciling our nation than before. Like I expressed to him, I hold him not responsible for the execution of my father as we both were children.
We are not perfect and we understand our imperfections have been our limitations.
But through our limitations we are working to improve our imperfections. Our hurts and pains are personal, they have left us bruised with physical inflictions, and psychological emotions, but today is a new day.”
Dennis adds: “I hold this fundamental truth to my motivation and determination to reconcile our difference and rebuild our nation. As a direct descendant of this land, we are both brothers and Liberia is bigger than us.
Therefore, we, extend a hand of reconciliation to every Liberian who family member was killed before and or during the civil war – to Prince Y. Johnson, Mrs. Jewel Taylor, Mrs. Tarloh Munah Quiwonkpa, (and her children, Kou, Deddeh, Gonkama, Jeleth, and Yormi Quiwonkpa), and to the children of government officials assassinated 1980, which included – Hon. Cyril Bright, Hon. Joseph J. F. Chesson, Sr., Hon. C. Cecil Dennis Jr., Hon. Richard A. Henries, Hon. Charles D. B. King, Hon. D. Franklin Neal, Hon. P. Clarence Parker II, Hon. James T. Phillips, Hon. James A. A. Pierre, Hon. John W. F. Sherman, Hon. Frank J. Stewart, Sr., Hon. Frank E. Tolbert, Sr., Hon. E. Reginald Townsend), for a Truce Conciliation through reformation.”
Uncertainty Still Over TRC Report
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in aftermath of the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was tasked with promoting national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” by investigating gross human rights violations and violations of humanitarian law, sexual violations, and economic crimes that occurred between January 1979 and October 2003.
The report among other things called for the establishment of a National Palava Hut Forum as a complementary tool for justice and national reconciliation and recommended that the Palava Hut process be based on traditional dispute resolution mechanisms.
Persons recommended for prosecution in the TRC Report for the commission of international crimes would not be entitled to be pardoned through the Palava Hut process.
The TRC also recommended that the Government of Liberia assumes its full responsibility under international law to provide reparations for all those individuals and communities victimized by the years of instability and war, especially women and children.
The commission recommended a reparation program of approximately US$500m over 30 years.
Perhaps the portion of the report grabbing the most attention was the names of 98 perpetrators that the TRC found responsible for various kinds of gross human rights violations and war crimes.
The report recommended that these people be investigated and prosecuted by the Liberian courts. The Commission concluded that “All warring factions are responsible for the commission of gross human rights violations in Liberia,” and therefore recommended for prosecution the heads of eight warring factions during both civil wars.
The report recommends 21 people be investigated and prosecuted for economic crimes along with 19 corporations, institutions, and state actors. 52 people are recommended for public sanction and being barred from holding public office again.
54 other individuals and entities are recommended for further investigation.
An additional 36 people were identified as perpetrators, but the TRC recommended that they should not be prosecuted because they “cooperated with the TRC process, admitted to the crimes committed and spoke truthfully before the Commission and expressed remorse for their prior actions during the war.”
Today, though, Liberia has struggled to ensure that the legal system t conduct its own investigations into the actions of those people listed by the TRC’s report.
Under the TRC Act, the president must report to the Legislature on the implementation of the TRC recommendations three months after the delivery of the report, and thereafter every three months. If the TRC’s recommendations are not being followed, the president must show cause to the Legislature why this is not the case.
The Carter Center challenged the government in July 2009 to ensure that the findings were implemented.
“Dealing with the crimes of the past is always one of the greatest challenges facing a country recovering from conflict,” said Carter Center Associate Director for Conflict Resolution Tom Crick.
“The TRC has now made its recommendations and it is now for legislature and the courts to begin their work in the spirit of Liberia’s continued and enduring commitment to peace.”
‘Journey Will Not be Easy, Dennis III Says
For the foreseeable future, Dennis III is confident that Liberia is capable of restoring itself by healing wounds through reconciliation. “Our journey will not be easy but it will be fruitful.
The Liberian Reformation Network platform is transparent and has a simple goal, reconciliation through reformation, and this goal is achievable. Therefore, I, Charles Cecil Dennis III, stand in total solidarity with Samuel K. Doe Jr, as the reconciliation and reformation of our people, begin with us.
Many may not embrace our patriotic obligation demonstrated for reconciliation, but they have to respect our democratic will to reunite our nation.”
That’s why, Dennis III adds: “Our reconciliation and reunification are symbolic of our collective strength, and not signs of our weakness. Together we are stronger. Together we are an unstoppable unit. Together, we, Liberians, represent our nations and support her democratic principles.
Together, patriotically, not problematically nor politically, but together we stand second to none.
Together, we uphold our nationalism. Together, we defend our solidarity. Together, we’ll move our nation forward. Together we uplift our national proud, dignity and integrity as law abiding citizens.”
Together, the pair is pledging alliance to Liberia in hopes of triggering a reconciliation movement. That’s why “We are in” for the reconciliation and reunification of Liberia.
Where do you stand, with us or against us? Are you a patriotic Liberian who’s in, who supports the restoration of Liberia, or our critic who constantly condemns our efforts without a solution?”