Madonna's Malawi dreams shattered

2011-08-07 15:56

Chinkota - The abandoned site looks more like a quarried mine than pop superstar Madonna's multi-million-dollar dream to groom girls into Malawi's next leaders and doctors.

But the bleak, levelled terraces of gravelly sand near Malawi's capital are the only evidence of her $15m academy that was ditched in a cloud over misused funds and disgruntled locals.

"This has just become a football ground now," said local chief Binson Kalenga.

The bulldozers are long silent where Madonna - who adopted two children from Malawi - laid a foundation stone engraved "dare to dream" in April 2010, in a simple village in a desperately poor African country that many could not find on a map.

A year later the school had been called off. The star is being sued by employees who were fired, her charity is tied up in a US tax investigation, and Malawi is investigating how the land was paid for.

"Initially although I welcomed [it], personally I was very sceptical about the whole thing," said Lilongwe district commissioner Paul Kalilombe.


"There was just too much publicity before there was any work on the ground."

Madonna's charities did not reply to queries. In January, she said the academy project was off in favour of helping existing schools across the country.

But The New York Times then reported on an audit, ordered by Madonna, which found $3.8m squandered on the discarded academy.

The audit reportedly found a "startling lack of accountability" on the management team in Malawi and the United States.

The star's last word was in April when she said a new strategy would be announced in coming weeks.

Unhappiness here began with payments to villagers for the land, which Madonna's charity Raising Malawi paid through the government.

"It would appear that maybe there were some ghost villagers. Within the list of recipients there are some people who were inserted maybe by some officers who are involved in the practice," Kalilombe told AFP.

"But it is a matter that is being investigated by the fiscal police in Malawi."


But in Chinkhota, an explanation had yet to reach villagers, who have to swallow a doubly bitter pill with their former fields ruined and not a classroom in sight.

"People were just surprised that there is no activity and wondering what is happening," said Tsiyent Foroyati, 52, sitting in the dirt-yard of her homestead.

Foroyati had never heard of Madonna until she adopted two Malawian children. As the biggest landowner around the school's site, she was paid 39 000 kwacha ($258) in compensation, but had wanted three million kwacha.

The family now pays 5 000 kwacha to rent about half a hectare for farming.

"Even if the project continued, we would still be angry because where are we going to garden?" said Foroyati. "And the biggest problem is that even if we were given back the land, it's very difficult to cultivate it."

The singer has poured millions into helping children in Malawi, where 39% of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Child care centre

In Namitete, west of Lilongwe, a dated picture of her with ex-husband Guy Ritchie in the background is on one of the notice boards at the Mphandula Child Care Centre which the singer bankrolled.

The community centre feeds more than 200 children a day, with a class of grandmothers sitting in the shade and bouncing children who are learning a dance from a Japanese volunteer.

"I really appreciate that she came," said the centre's programme manager Jacinta Champomba, who has never heard Madonna's music but said she shared the idea of caring for orphans.

For the school, Madonna should have worked with an existing organisation that knows "what is actually happening on the ground", said Kalilombe who believes an orphanage is planned for the academy site.

"When a person of such stature comes in, people most only think of the money," he said.

"The idea was good. She had good intentions, but now to implement it on the ground, that brought a lot of complications."

Chief Kalenga said he wants to ask Madonna why the project failed.

"We felt happy that this is a person who was going to help us. We welcomed her as a fellow Malawian," he said.

"We are heartbroken because of the rumours we still hear about this project being stopped.

"We are demanding that Madonna should come and tell us what has happened. We don't want to hear it from rumours but we want her to come and explain to us."


  • jockvanwyk - 2011-08-07 16:24

    welcome to Africa the biggest scam in the world

  • Deeteem - 2011-08-07 16:28

    AFRICANS JUST WANT CASH !! How do you steal a school ?

      daaivark - 2011-08-08 08:22

      Deeteem. So what are you then? Were you not born in Africa?

      Welleducated - 2011-08-08 08:33

      This is true, A huge percentage of Africans (of ALL racs) just want -want - want while sitting on their lazy asses. Black Africans want handouts while white Africans want handouts too. The difference is that black africans do it with racist policies (BEE and AA - just like apartheid in fact)

      Daemos1 - 2011-08-08 15:39

      @welleducated The irony is in your name

  • Lewsi - 2011-08-07 16:35

    What did she really expect??

  • Figjam - 2011-08-07 16:46

    How is Africa going to pull itself out of poverty when foreign investment in its future is constantly misappropriated by corrupt officials? How long before everyone gets tired of it and diverts their money to more responsible territories? People of Africa, you have but yourselves to blame. You will live in poverty until you rise up and DEMAND responsible, honest and accountable government.

  • Frans - 2011-08-07 16:59

    typical africa - when will they learn..

      MasseSchmart - 2011-08-07 17:22

      Never - there are no schools!

  • Mary Ann Beeden - 2011-08-07 17:01

    I have worked for NGO's. Foreign countries are no longer just pouring in funds as before. They all have be channelled through existing companies that demand accountability from those the funds go to. Getting very tight. Many NGO's have suffered, shooting themselves in both feet.

  • Frans - 2011-08-07 17:02

    200 years from now they will still stand with their hands out..and the fools in america and europe will still take their own peoples tax (tax payers money) and give it out to corrupt african thugs and thieves. in this case, madonna thinks because she can sing, she has "common sense". if she had, she would not have given them the cheque book.

  • Bill - 2011-08-07 17:30

    When will these liberal rich Americans wake up to Africa....! Rather put their money into saving the Rhino and leave these corrupt thug people to drown in their own greed and worthlessness…!

      daaivark - 2011-08-08 08:23

      Uhm. Madonna is British.

      Cussy - 2011-08-08 09:24

      @daaivark: uhm, she's actually American. Born in Michigan.

      Obama Bin Laden - 2011-08-08 12:12

      daaivark. you should change your name to daaidomdoos

  • Trevor - 2011-08-07 18:10

    Eurocentric - ask him, he says it's the "White" mans fault...LMAO...this is Africa, Oprah has also seen her backside,her "school" turned out to be a disgrace but hey, blame it on the "White" man...

  • HarryO - 2011-08-07 18:23

    Afrika @ work, reminds me being in Sierra Leone +/- 8 years after the civil war, heaps of NGO's around, donations pouring in from all over, clothes blankets etc. all FOR SALE at a special price in the local market, the ultimate being blankets with the UNHCR markings.

  • Jack Spam - 2011-08-07 19:03

    Africa is one big scam, the sooner "the evil west" realise this the better.

  • BernieK - 2011-08-07 21:28

    People from Europe and the US are just so incredible naive.

  • gatvol4corru - 2011-08-07 21:36

    What an idiot! I guess JUJU has found a soulmate

  • Donovan Jackson - 2011-08-07 22:13

    We are demanding.....

  • TinaM - 2011-08-07 22:13

    sort stuff out in your own country first!

  • ProudofPink - 2011-08-07 22:41

    ROTFLMAO! Madonna obviously never realised just what she was dealing with. This is so very funny!!!

  • Chillibean - 2011-08-08 05:25

    Shame! "Poor" little Madonna.

  • Ya Beauty! - 2011-08-08 07:38

    A charity is a business if you are not on the ground it just won't work no need to just blame the African when they did not have the capacity to run such a project without proper training. Enough with the race card i think 17 years is enough to always blame race when it comes to failures....

  • TRACEYK - 2011-08-08 09:33

    There is always corruption and stealing in African countries, that is why the countries never succeed because the power that be, only think of themselves. The money that Madonna gave was squandered and no one benefited except the fat cats. Even Oprah's school in Jhb had it's problems. I'm sorry to say it, but blacks cannot be trusted and should be left alone to sort out their own poverty.

      Ya Beauty! - 2011-08-08 09:55

      Tracy the racist comments are just not necessary, to add on they are a sign of ignorance to insinuate that every black person is corrupt is not only niave but its on the verge of stupidity. It was Madona's money she should have managed it better theren lies the problem....

  • preshengovender69 - 2011-08-08 10:32

    The ANC handle the tender

  • coDOTza - 2011-08-08 11:23

    Speak to Julius

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