Written by RALPH TENTHANI
BLANTYRE--The Malawi government has accused US pop diva Madonna of lying and blackmail following the singer’s controversial week-long tour to the southern African country.
A strongly-worded statement issued Wednesday by State House in the capital, Lilongwe, accuses Madonna of using her fame, money and influence to blackmail the government of Malawi.
"Granted, Madonna is a famed international musician. But that does not impose an injunction of obligation on any government under whose territory Madonna finds herself, including Malawi, to give her state treatment. Such treatment, even if she deserved it, is discretionary not obligatory," reads the statement, signed by State House Press Officer Tusekele Mwanyongo apparently referring to the singer's disquiet upon being stripped of her VIP status on departure from Malawi last Saturday.
VIPs in Malawi, who include local and visiting politicians like presidents and ex-presidents, and ministers, global philanthropists and global superstars like Madonna herself, use a special VIP lounge. A government-issued limo is assigned to take them to the VIP lounge so that the guests do not have to use the airport shuttle bus.
Perhaps most importantly VIPs are not supposed to queue to have their passports checked and stamped.
Madonna, who has always been accorded VIP treatment during all her previous visits - including when she jetted into the country on April 1 - got the shock of her life when she and her travelling party went through the usual rigmarole of queuing with ordinary passengers and being frisked by airport security.
"There was a directive that Miss Louise Ciccone, travelling on an American passport, and her children Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon, Rocco Ritchie, Mercy James, David Banda Ciccone Ritchie should use the ordinary passenger terminal on their way to their jet," said the aviation official who cannot be named because he isn’t authorised to speak to the media.
Pres. Joyce Banda was personally reportedly angered by Madonna's claims that she has built 10 schools in Malawi.
"Where are the ten schools she has built? She is just building school blocks at already existing schools. In some cases she just renovated an already existing block. This is an insult to the people of Malawi. She can't be lying to the world at our expense," an angry Pres. Banda reportedly said in widely quoted remarks.
She added: "“This is an insult to the people of Malawi. She can't be lying to the world at our expense."
Banda, Africa's second female president, also alluded to the fact that Madonna was accorded VIP treatment despite her just sneaking into the country unannounced.
"Just because she previously used the VIP facilities, the immigration officials decided to open the VIP lounge for her," she said.
The Wednesday statement also accused Madonna of holding Malawi to ransom just because she adopted two children from the southern African country.
"Granted, Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi. According to the record, this gesture was humanitarian and of her accord. It, therefore, comes across as strange and depressing that for a humanitarian act, prompted only by her, Madonna wants Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude. 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," reads the statement.
The statement says Malawi has played host to other international stars like Chuck Norris, Bono, David James, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville "who have never demanded state attention or decorum despite their equally dazzling stature".
The statement dismisses claims that Pres. Banda is mad at Madonna for firing her younger sister, Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo as CEO for her Raising Malawi.
But in an e-mail interview with maravipost.com, Trevor Neilson, whose Global Philanthropy Group that is managing Madonna's projects in Malawi, repeated those claims.
"The President of Malawi appears to be using her office to pursue the financial interests of her family," he said.
When Banda became president following the death last April of her predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika, she made Mtila-Oponyo Secretary for Education. Neilson claims she used her new position to get back to her estranged boss.
"Immediately Oponyo began to use that office to pursue her grudge against Raising Malawi, first by harassing organisations that Raising Malawi has donated to and then by having the Education Ministry [that she helps lead] claim that the 10 schools that BuildOn was built with Raising Malawi funding," he said.
Mtila-Oponyo is currently in Europe on official duties but in an earlier interview she refused to comment on these allegations.
"I don't want to be seen as fighting them," she said.
This is the most disastrous and most controversial tour Madonna has undertaken to Malawi since she first visited in 2006. Previously, she was accorded VIP treatment and given state security. She even had a meeting with Pres. Mutharika who publicly praised her for adopting Malawian children.
But despite the furore surrounding the tour Madonna seems unfazed.
"My reasons for being here have never changed, I am here because I care deeply about the children of Malawi, that is my main priority. So regardless of the challenges, the ups and the downs, I learnt a lot for the last seven years. I have not forgotten my commitment to the children, to the orphans...specifically to the children of Malawi. I will continue supporting Malawian children."
She came along with her two adopted Malawian children David Banda and Mercy James, both eight, and twelve-year-old Rocco and Lourdes, 14.
(c) The Maravi Post 2013