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Malawi vs Madonna: Fighting a mosquito with a bazooka!

Malawi was all over the world but for all the wrong reasons. Madonna, that woman who pitched up here back in 2006 out of the blues to adopt two of our kids, was in town again. This time her mission was not about a third adoption; she was in town to inspect the ten “schools” she has built for the impoverished us!

Now, we all know our public schools are in shambles, we can’t begin to deny that. Hundreds of pupils still sit on bare cold floors or learn under tree shades. Go to Kawale Primary School in the heart of the capital, Lilongwe, if you think I am lying.

So, if pupils can’t afford a decent classroom at a school a shout away from Kamuzu Palace, what do you expect the situation to be at Mkoka Primary School in the tobacco heartland of Kasungu, some 100 kilometres from the capital?

That is where Madonna, the global super star who announced her arrival on the global stage with her smash hit ‘Holiday’ back in 1983, went the other day to inspect the “schools” she has built.

But the Malawi government took great exception to this.

“Where are the ten schools she has built?” an audibly angry President Joyce Banda fumed to the Muckraker on the phone on Tuesday, April 2 – a day after Madonna’s unannounced visit. “She is just building school blocks at already existing schools. In some cases she just renovated already existing blocks. This is an insult to the people of Malawi. She can’t be lying to the world at our expense.”

Indeed the ‘Material Girl’ – remember that song? – shouldn’t cheat us; where are the schools?

I agree with Abiti. A school, in its ordinary sense, comprise an organised setting – with or without infrastructure – where learning takes place. What Madonna’s Raising Malawi – the charity she co-founded with Michael Berg for her Malawi cause – did with BuildOn was to put up a school block here, another there and renovate others elsewhere.

This, to say the least, is commendable. But, that notwithstanding, the structures she put up can’t ordinarily be called “schools” lest we risk having multiple “schools” at already existing ones.

But this is an unnecessary debate in a country where thousands of pupils still learn from under trees. Whether Madonna – or any other philanthropist for that matter – built “schools” or “school blocks” is neither here nor there. As long as a couple of hundred pupils have been taken out of tree shades into a decent classroom, we should be thankful.

I must confess, therefore, that the virulent statement last Wednesday from State House shocked me. The no-holds-all-barred statement says: “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.”

Talk of fighting a mosquito with a bazooka! That vitriol, coming out of a whole State House towards a mere entertainer, is certainly uncalled for. Her billions notwithstanding Madonna is just a musician for crying out loud!

President Banda is President Banda, a leader of a country. She should really pick fights with opponents her equal. She was in her element the other day when she squared up with the Sudanese strongman Omar Hassan al-Bashir over the aborted African Union summit in Lilongwe. We also expect her to look Jokaya Kikwete straight in the eye over the Lake Malawi stand-off.

But she can’t be trading barbs with mere entertainers. Where are our standards?

Now we hear uncomfortable stories that the unusually strong-worded statement didn’t have her full backing. It was somehow smuggled out of State House behind her back.

What? This is beyond comprehension. How can we be so careless with handling communication in such a high place? Anything coming out of State House has a bearing on the rest of us. Communication shouldn’t leave Kamuzu Palace without being commissioned, researched, checked, re-checked and vetted.

Now there will certainly be calls for us to apologise to Madonna if we have any sense of decorum. Hey, we called Madonna an “attention-seeking” blackmailer. Of course we will procrastinate. We can’t begin to apologise to musicians whoever they may be. We will not stop to think why we picked up a fight with them in the first place!

But this embarrassing episode could have been easily avoided. We should have never dragged the whole presidency in this issue. Whether we apologise or not we have come out of this with egg all over our face while Madonna is having the last laugh.

We must learn to pick our fights carefully. Not every fight is worth fighting.

Before Madonna came to pick David Banda from Mchinji not many people out there knew a country called Malawi existed. She therefore helped putting us on the world map.

She was not called ‘Miss Malawi’ for nothing. She has said all the right things on our behalf. We cannot really afford to have her churning negative energy on our behalf.

Granted, she may not be a multi-lateral donor. But many of her kind will think twice to come to a country which unleashes the whole state machinery on an individual whose only crime was to call a school block a “school”.

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