Bloomberg News

Malawi’s President Banda Accuses Madonna of Charity Blackmail

April 11, 2013

Malawi’s government criticized singer Madonna as uncouth for demanding VIP treatment on a recent visit, an accusation the pop star blamed on political interference from President Joyce Banda’s sister.

Madonna last week went to the southern African nation, from which she has adopted two children and started a charity to build schools there, called Raising Malawi. She first traveled there in 2006 and adopted a son, and later, a daughter.

“Madonna feels that the Malawi government and its leadership should have abandoned everything and attended to her because she believes she is a music star-turned-benefactor who is doing Malawi good,” according to a statement from State House Press Officer Tusekele Mwanyongo.

About half of Malawi’s 15 million people live on less than $1 a day, according to the International Monetary Fund, while the government relies on donor funds for 40 percent of its budget. The country is Africa’s biggest exporter of burley tobacco and Limbe Leaf Tobacco Co., unit of the U.S.-based Universal Corp., Alliance One International Inc. (AOI:US) and Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914) are among buyers there.

“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,” Madonna said in a statement posted on the website of Raising Malawi. “I will not be distracted or discouraged by other people’s political agendas.”

‘Deep Resistance’

Banda’s younger sister Anjimile Mtila Oponyo, an Education Ministry official who worked for Raising Malawi, has put up “deep resistance” to Madonna’s plans to build smaller schools instead of a large girls’ academy as first planned, the singer said. The initial team to build that school included Mtila Oponyo until “major organizational problems” forced its disbanding, Madonna said.

The singer has built 20 classrooms in Malawi instead of the 20 schools she has said, Mwanyongo said in the statement.

“The difference between a school or a classroom should be the most obvious thing for a person demanding state courtesy to decipher,” he said. “For her to accuse Mrs. Oponyo for indiscretions that have clearly arisen from her personal frustrations that her ego has not been massaged by the state is uncouth.”

Malawi remains ready to welcome philanthropists, although it will not tolerate “blackmail,” according to the statement.

Madonna intends to keep her “promise to the children of Malawi” and maintain her charitable work, according the statement from Raising Malawi.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Jomo in Blantyre at fjomo@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net


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