Joyce Banda, Malawi’s new president, has expressed concern over Madonna’s adoption of children from her country and criticised her for “changing her mind” over plans to build schools there.
Mrs Banda said the pop star was not “barred” from returning to Malawi, known as the Warm Heart of Africa, but that her charitable involvement in the country was over.
“Madonna came to Malawi to build a school, an academy like the one Oprah (Winfrey) build in South Africa, but she changed her mind,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
“I have a problem with a lot of things around the adoption of the children and the changing of the mind and then coming back to build community schools.
“I don’t want to discuss that, I don’t want that to be top of my agenda because it doesn’t matter. It’s something she offered to do and she has changed her mind – that’s fine.”
Mrs Banda, the second woman ever to become an African president who stepped into the post after the death from a heart attack of her autocratic predecessor Bingu wa Mutharika earlier this month, was speaking during a visit to South Africa where she met President Jacob Zuma.
The 62-year-old president’s sister is Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, a Malawian development worker picked by Madonna to be CEO of her £9.4 million Raising Malawi Academy for Girls for 400 children.
It followed her controversial adoption of first David, then Mercy, from Malawian families.
But the singer fell out with the charity’s local staff including Mrs Mtila-Oponyo when a report accused them of expropriating funds to spend on luxury cars and golf membership. She and others are now suing Madonna’s foundation for wrongful termination.
Earlier this year, Madonna said she would build 10 schools around the country instead but that suggestion was rejected by the Department of Education, who said the government was “fed up” with her.
Mrs Banda’s intervention is a first by the Malawian leadership, which is heavily dependent on foreign assistance in its education and health sectors, and effectively closes the door on any further charitable work by Madonna.
“Malawi is a free nation, we cannot bar anyone from coming,” Mrs Banda said. “She’s not interested in investing any more – she has closed her offices in Malawi.
“We have accepted her position, we respect her decision and I personally don’t have any further comment about it.”
Mrs Banda said however that she was keen for the re-establishment of direct aid to her government from Britain, following a diplomatic spat last year which saw Mr wa Mutharika eject the British High Commissioner from Malawi after he accused the president of becoming “increasingly autocratic”.
“We have assured the UK that what the High Commissioner went through will not happen again,” she said. “He will be respected and given space to work efficiently without disturbance.”
She urged Britons to support continued aid to Malawi, despite a recession at home that has seen cuts in virtually all other government spending.
“The UK is our largest donor and has come very far with us,” she said. “We look upon the UK as the country that has taken us from zero to where we are now in terms of education and health.
“We do realise that we need to be moving from where we are, from a country that depends on imports to exporting, from aid to trade, and that is what I am starting to do now.
“I hope our main donors like the UK will want to stand by us a little longer. It would be tragic for anything to go wrong with our support base now that a woman has taken over because then I would have failed and I have never failed, this would be my first time.”
Sarah Ezzy, a spokeswoman for the Global Philanthropy Group which manages Raising Malawi on Madonna’s behalf, said the pop star had spent over $11 million of her own money on Malawian projects in the past six years and would continue to invest in the country despite President Banda’s comments.
“In 2012, Raising Malawi continues to support several community-based organisations, including orphan care centers and medical clinics across the country,” she said. “The organisation has partnered with the (US charity) buildOn to construct 10 new primary schools in rural communities. Additionally, later this spring Raising Malawi will install a power grid at Consol Homes orphan care center to bring electricity to that community. Thousands of children and their families will benefit from this investment.”