Madonna vs Malawi: A very uncharitable relationship

The President says she is a bully. Madonna says the President is a liar. So how did a mercy mission go so horribly wrong?

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Madonna’s trip to Malawi this month should have been a straightforward affair: visit her charitable project, catch up on its progress and head home, basking in fond memories and good publicity.

Instead, barely a week after returning, the singer has found herself embroiled in a bitter row with the President of the country where her two adopted children were born.

In an extraordinary statement issued by President Joyce Banda’s office, the singer was accused of demanding VIP treatment, “bullying state officials” and chaining Malawi to “an obligation of gratitude”.

Although Madonna has accused the President of “lies” and her spokesman has suggested that the Malawian government’s attitude is based on a grudge held since the President’s sister was removed from her position at the top of Madonna’s charity, the singer’s reputation in the country, which she first visited in 2006, has suffered a serious blow.

The row has escalated since Malawi’s Education Minister, Eunice Kazembe, accused the singer of exaggerating the scale of her charitable work in the country. Madonna’s charity, Raising Malawi, claims to have built 10 schools serving more than 4,800 children, but Mrs Kaembe told the BBC that in reality she had built “classrooms at existing schools”.

Relations with the government worsened when Madonna was reported to have been angered when she, her four children and her entourage were made to queue and check-in with ordinary passengers at the Kamuzu International Airport on their departure from Malawi last week.

President Banda’s office responded with an explosive statement accusing Madonna of making unreasonable demands “because she believes she is a music star turned benefactor who is doing Malawi good.”

“Granted Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi,” point number three reads of an excoriating 11-point statement attacking on the singer. It goes on to say that “Madonna wants Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude.”

Claiming that Madonna had accused the President’s sister Anjimle Oponyo of “pulling the strings against her” because the singer not been “receiving the attention and the graces that she believes she deserved”, the statement archly points out that other celebrities of “equally dazzling stature” – including Chuck Norris, Bono and footballers David James, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville – had all conducted themselves with more decorum on charitable trips to the country.

Madonna called the allegations “ridiculous”.

“I’m saddened that Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has chosen to release lies about what we’ve accomplished, my intentions, how I personally conducted myself while visiting Malawi and other untruths,” she said in a statement on Raising Malawi’s website. “

Trevor Neilson, whose Global Philanthropy Group manages Madonna’s charitable work in Malawi, said that President Banda appeared to be “using her office to pursue the financial interests of her sister”.

Madge vs Malawi: Statements

Joyce Banda

“Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes.”


“I came to Malawi seven years ago with honourable intentions. I returned earlier this month to view the new schools we built. I did not ever demand special treatment at the airport or elsewhere during my visit.”