The death of the prominent historian, economist and writer Desmond Dudwa Phiri popularly known as DD Phiri has left behind shoes too big for anyone to fit in.
We have all heard of or known DD Phiri since we were young. His articles have been published in numerous media outlets. Through his writings, DD Phiri taught us and inspired us a lot.
For many years, I have been a very keen follower and fan of DD Phiri’s columns and other stories and pieces of writing. I bought his History of Malawi books, both Volumes 1 and 2 and those books helped me to understand where we come from and more about our history, our culture and our ancestors.
I grew up in the ‘Nkhamanga Kingdom’ area and pursued my primary education there, at schools surrounding Bolero. We used to hear and say “NKhamanga Yikali”. But we didn’t really know the background and exact origin of this saying. It was only when I read DD Phiri’s books that I came to understand this fully.
DD Phiri had no big title or rank or position in society for several decades. And yet, he was hugely respected by everyone and he was called upon to help in many cases, even as guest of honour, keynote address speaker, adviser, mentor and so forth. All this made him influential in society. He was, therefore, a living example that if you amass a lot of knowledge, you will have power, influence and impact.
In his book entitled The Road Less Travelled—A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, Dr. Scott Peck opined that any knowledge that is not shared is sterile and remains of no value.
It would appear DD Phiri was a big believer of this great principle because there is little if any of his knowledge that he never shared. He tried to share everything he knew. A great generous man indeed! A very confident figure in society—not afraid to share everything he knew.
In fact, it was by sharing that DD Phiri continued to grow, develop and remain relevant. He avoided becoming ‘sterile’.
Many people become irrelevant in society simply because they hang on to the knowledge they have and often it is very little knowledge—tiny fractions of what DD Phiri knew. We are now challenged at the occasion of DD Phiri’s death, to emulate his good example and share everything we know all the time.
In fact, it was by sharing that DD Phiri challenged himself by default to read more, to study more and to record more new knowledge. It is said that to be a good writer, one has to be an ardent reader. This means that the practise of sharing all his knowledge all the time, forced DD Phiri to be an avid reader and scholar.
I can also reveal that at a very personal level, DD Phiri did inspire me in general and in my coming up with the idea to start the Rise and Shine column nearly 10 years ago in October 2009. While I used to get a lot of pressure from two friends who are themselves very fine writers, Stanley Onjezani Kenani and Peter Makossah, it was my admiration for DD Phiri’s consistent sharing of knowledge through writing that equipped me with the desire to ‘bow’ to the positive pressure from Kenani and Makossah.
At that time, DD Phiri was in his 70s and I thought there was need for a new generation of writers to take over. I literally looked at it as a case of volunteering to be one of the new generation of regular writers. It was pleasing to see peers and friends in my generation also attempting to do the same thing around the same time, including Dr. Thomas Chataghalala Munthali, Patrick Achitabwino, Chimwemwe Kanyenda and many more.
However, I am sure that most of these will agree with me that while we try to fill the vacuum, DD Phiri’s shoes are just too big and two wide to fill. We can only marvel at what a person he was. The legacy he has left behind will never ever be deleted, erased or eliminated. May his soul rest in eternal peace.