- By Alicia P.Q. WittmeyerAlicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.
The Material Girl made a trip to Malawi over the past week. Suffice it to say it did not go well.
Among the slights the one-name-only star endured:
- Though she was given VIP status in the airport upon arrival, on her way out of the country her special status was revoked, and Madonna was forced to wait in lines and go through security before boarding her private jet.
- A handwritten note she sent to President Joyce Banda was widely mocked, both for its informality ("Dear Joyce," it started off, before congratulating Banda on her "new position" — "as if the barrier-breaking politician has earned a promotion at an insurance company," the New York Daily News scoffed) and its misspellings ("What an honor and what a huge responsability!")
- Her request to meet with Banda was ignored, and she was slammed by the president while still in country for reneging on a pledge to build an academy for girls and renovating existing classroom blocks instead — without government consent. (A widely circulating quote in which Banda accuses Madonna of making "poor people dance for her" is also a pretty brutal knock on the star, though the original source of the quote, the British tabloid the Sun, no longer seems to be using the quote in its entirety.)
Madonna has had a complicated relationship with Malawi since controversy erupted over her adoption of two Malawi children, David Banda and Mercy James, both eight. The charitable organization she founded afterward, Raising Malawi, collapsed amid accusations of mismanagement; one of the heads sent rolling belonged to Banda’s younger sister Anjimile Mtila-Oponyo, and a spokesman suggested to the Telegraph yesterday that Madonna was being subjected to the indignities of airport security as the result of a "grudge."
Madonna herself has yet to issue a statement on the controversy — after making it through security, you could say she left Malawi faster than a ray of light. But she did speak briefly to cameras at an orphanage in Lilongwe, where she said her focus remained on Malawi’s children — a line that moved at least one prominent observer of the spat to join Team Madonna.