Malawi issued a scathing critique of pop diva Madonna on Wednesday, accusing her of exaggerating her contributions to the southern African country and unreasonably demanding special treatment during her tour there last week.
The pop star denied the accusations. Her spokesman suggested they were prompted by the recent removal of the president's sister as head of Madonna's humanitarian organization there.
The singer has a long history with the country, which she first visited in 2006. She adopted two children from Malawi and runs several projects there. She was granted VIP treatment during previous visits, including when she last jetted into the country on April 1. But Madonna apparently was surprised when she learned upon leaving Malawi that that was no longer the case, and that she and her travelling party would have to line up with ordinary passengers and be 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 an aviation official who refused to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
A strongly worded statement by the president's office accused Madonna of trying to use her fame and money to press Malawi into giving her special treatment.
"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," the statement said.
The presidential statement also questioned Madonna's intentions behind her humanitarian efforts in Malawi, alleging that the singer "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," the statement said.
President Joyce Banda was reportedly angered by Madonna's claims that she has built 10 schools in Malawi, and questioned that statement in widely quoted remarks last week.
"Where are the 10 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," Banda said.
In a statement released by her spokesperson, Madonna said he was "saddened" that Banda "has chosen to release lies about what we've accomplished, my intentions, how I personally conducted myself while visiting Malawi and other untruths. I have no intentions of being distracted by these ridiculous allegations."
"I came to Malawi seven years ago with honorable intentions," Madonna said in the statement. "I returned earlier this month to view the new schools we built. I did not ever ask or demand special treatment at the airport or elsewhere during my visit. I will not be distracted or discouraged by other people's political agendas. I made a promise to the children of Malawi and I am keeping that promise."
A spokesman for Madonna expressed surprise at the most recent criticism and called the claim that the singer had requested special treatment "nonsense."
"Obviously these attacks are influenced by the fact that the President's sister was removed as the head of Madonna's organization in Malawi due to concerns about mismanagement of $3.8 million," said Trevor Neilson, whose Global Philanthropy Group is managing Madonna's projects in Malawi.
"As the largest private philanthropist to Malawi we would think that the government would be pleased that she is giving her time and money to one of the poorest countries in the world," Neilson said.
The statement from the president's office dismissed the claim that Banda is angry because her younger sister, Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, was fired as the CEO for Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi.
The presidential statement said 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."
Despite the furor, Madonna seemed 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," she said last week at the end of her trip.
Madonna traveled there with her two adopted Malawian children, David Banda and Mercy James, both 8, and her children Lourdes, 14, and Rocco, 12.