Joyce Banda, the president of Malawi, is said to be furious at her public relations staff for making a scathing attack on Madonna without her knowledge or approval.
The press officer concerned has apparently admitted: “Oops, I goofed, the president is mad with me.”
The official statement from Malawi’s state house that labelled the singer a bully who demands VIP treatment
and dishonestly exaggerates her contribution to the country made headlines around the world this week.
But on Friday it emerged that, while many in Malawi are believed to support the sentiments expressed, Banda herself never saw or signed off on the colourful statement. “It looks like she was not consulted on this, nor did the press team realise the implications of their action in picking up a fight with Madonna,” said a source close to Sanjika Palace, the presidential residence on the outskirts of the commercial city Blantyre.
Another source was quoted by the BBC as describing Banda as ” incandescent with anger” over the mix-up.
Madonna’s supporters have argued that the criticism was prompted by the removal of the president’s sister, Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, as head of the US star’s humanitarian organisation in Malawi.
A leaked email apology, obtained by the Guardian from a source in the Malawian government, was allegedly sent by one of the president’s press officers to Mtila-Oponyo. “HE [Her Excellency Joyce Banda] called me this morning and reprimanded me for issuing the statement without consulting Steve, my boss,” the message says. “I had thought we needed to move quickly to respond to Madonna’s outbursts.
“Her team has gone flat out to tarnish your image and even that of the president. I thought I had to be vigilant and tell them off! Oops, I goofed, the president is mad with me. If I have wronged HE and yourself, Madam, forgive me, but I wholeheartedly believed that it was incumbent upon me to protect the president from unfair criticism.”
It concludes: “Please, convey my apologies to the president and assure her that nothing of this sort will ever happen again.”
Contacted by phone, the purported author of the email denied any knowledge of it. “No, I don’t know that, where did you get it from?” the press officer said. “How would I know who wrote it? I don’t know anything about that. I’m not prepared to associate myself with something when I don’t know the source.”
Banda’s press secretary, Steve Nhlane, a former newspaper editor assumed to be the “Steve” referred to in the email, declined to comment on the Madonna affair. “I don’t know anything,” he said. “I don’t know if she [Banda] made the comments. I’m not aware of anything.”
The official statement had accused Madonna of wanting Malawi “to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude”. It claimed the star believed the government should have “rolled out a red carpet and blast the 21-gun salute” upon her arrival in the southern African country.
Madonna responded that she 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 intention of being distracted by these ridiculous allegations.”
Despite Banda’s apparent fury, there was no sign of an apology from the Malawian government or other interested parties. Emily Banda (no relation), chair of the Non-Governmental Organisation Board of Malawi, said the row over the statement is a distraction from “the real of bone of contention”. She criticised Madonna for abandoning plans to build an academy for girls and for making inflated claims about building 10 schools instead.
“The core issue is what did Madonna promise and whether those expectations have been met,” she said.