International artist Madonna and Malawian President Joyce Banda. Photo by: David Shankbone and Travis Lupick

Madonna is a bully. Did Malawi President Joyce Banda really just say that?

Banda’s office released a statement late last week accusing Madonna of “blackmail” and “bullying state officials” during the international singer’s recent visit to the country. Madonna was allegedly demanding “attention and courtesy that she thinks she merits and deserves.”

The queen of pop meanwhile denies the allegations as “lies.”

“I did not ever ask or demand special treatment at the airport or elsewhere during my visit,” she said in a statement released by her charity, Raising Malawi.

The statement from the president’s office also honed in on Madonna’s humanitarian work in Malawi, suggesting the star had exaggerated her work on building schools in the south-east African country.

“Among the many things that Madonna needs to learn as a matter of urgency is the decency of telling the truth. For her to tell the whole world that she is building schools in Malawi when she has actually only contributed to the construction of classrooms is not compatible with [the] manners of someone who thinks she deserved to be revered with state grandeur,” asserts the statement.

Madonna countered by making reference in her statement to the 10 primary schools in Kasungu province “completed” in the past year by her charity and international nonprofit organization buildOn. She said she will continue with her commitment to educate children in Malawi and will not be “distracted by these ridiculous allegations.”

The fiery exchange was reportedly fueled by Madonna’s decision in 2011 to shut down her charity’s office in the country, following reports of fund misuse. That office’s CEO was Anjimile Oponyo, Banda’s sister. At that time, Banda said she respected Madonna’s decision.

The recent war of words, it seems, is unknown to Banda herself.

A senior Malawi official told the BBC that Banda knew nothing of the statement issued on April 10 by her press officer, Tusekele Mwanyongo. The president was reportedly furious over the action, but her office has yet to release any further clarification on the matter.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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