Last words: Solomonic wisdom at elections


Acclaimed writer, historian and economist, Desmond Dudwa Phiri, passed on on Sunday, leaving behind a legacy that will continue to endear him to many people in Malawi and beyond. To continue honouring this great son of Malawi, we republish one of the articles that he wrote on this column.


When the young Hebrew Solomon was installed as king in place of his deceased father, David, the first thing he asked from God was wisdom, not wealth or military power.


Did God give him enough wisdom to face intricate problems? Yes, two commercial sex workers bore babies at the same time while they were sleeping in the same house. One of the women had, during the day, drunk alcohol such that during the night, she rolled her massive body on her baby and killed it. When she woke up, she took the dead baby and placed it on the mat on which her companion slept and then took that woman’s baby to her mat.

When the other woman woke up and saw the dead baby, she realised it had been planted on her mat. She shook up the woman who had laid on her baby and accused her of having stolen her baby. They took their dispute to King Solomon. Each spoke so convincingly that it was difficult to judge who was lying.

King Solomon said: “I am going to run this dagger in the middle of this baby. You will have one and you will have the other.” One of the women jumped with joy and thanked the king for his justice. But the other woman said: “Your Majesty, just give her the baby. I would rather forfeit ownership of this baby than see it killed innocently.”


King Solomon thereupon declared the woman who did not want the baby killed the real mother. This is a well-known story to those who attended Sunday school and it has been a source of commentary.

The time to ensure that the one who is declared winner of the elections is the genuine one, not the one who rigged the election, safeguards should be put in place before the elections to avoid unnecessary disputes once the results are declared.

Traditional loopholes are always plugged but, when the results are announced, some of those who cry foul have a point. Those who rig elections have discovered strategies and tricks which those appointed to process the results seem to be unaware of.

A few months ago, I wrote an article based on a book review of a British magazine called The Spectator. The title of the book was How to Rig an Election. The two authors had travelled the world over to learn the various tricks people use to steal electoral victories. I suggest those whose duty is to ensure that there are free and fair elections should get a copy of How to Rig an Election.

It would be much better that election results be in the Solomonic manner. He or she that believes that they are the real winners should put the interests of the people first.

A few examples are given here. About two decades ago, there was a dispute between the Democratic Party candidate in USA called Al Gore and Republican Candidate George W. Bush. Bush’s brother, a governor and the judge who declared Bush the winner were suspected to have done that fraudulently. The world believed Al Gore had won the election. He also believed that but he did not cause any trouble.

In Kenya, recently, there was a dispute between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. Odinga, being magnanimous, let Kenya continue to enjoy peace and world respect. It was better that he forfeit what belonged to him than have the people of Kenya embroiled in civil war.

The most recent case is the election in the Democratic Republic of Congo where some foreign governments and individuals wanted to perpetuate violence for reasons of their own. One group said an opinion poll had indicated that the candidate who was supported by the Catholic Church was to win. When Felix Tshiskedi won, there was an outcry and the dispute was taken to court where the court confirmed his victory. The losers restrained themselves and did not resort to violence.

It is this kind of scenario we should like to see at the May 21 2019 elections.

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