Malawi has launched a stinging attack on US pop icon Madonna, accusing her of expecting "gratitude" and VIP treatment on a visit last week to her charity projects in the southern African country.
It was "strange and depressing" that the singer seemed to want "Malawi to be forever chained to the obligation of gratitude" for having adopted two Malawian children, President Joyce Banda's government said on Wednesday.
"Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous," it added in a four-page statement. "If it can't be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes."
For the first time, the 54-year-old superstar was denied use of the VIP section at the airport and had to use the ordinary passenger section. She was visiting schools her charity has built in central Malawi with her four children, including Malawian-born David Banda and Mercy James.
Madonna's fame did not mean she had to be given "state treatment", and she was "like any other visitor" not on an official invitation, said the statement.
A dig was also made about Madonna's charity work, with the government saying she urgently needed to learn "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 manners of someone who thinks she deserves to be revered with state grandeur," the statement said. "The difference between a school and a classroom should be the most obvious thing for a person demanding state courtesy to decipher."
Madonna two years ago abandoned a US$15-million girls' academy, saying she would instead build community schools to accommodate more students. The project for the school, which was to be headed by Joyce Banda's sister Anjimile Oponyo, was mired in allegations of mismanagement, with US$3.8 million of unaccounted funds spent.
The government dismissed allegations of Oponyo's involvement in the sniping.
Madonna refused to take the criticism lying down. She said she was saddened that Joyce 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 intentions of being distracted by these ridiculous allegations".
A spokeswoman for Madonna expressed surprise at the criticism and said the claim that the singer had requested special treatment was nonsense.
She noted that Oponyo was sacked as the chief executive of Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi. "Madonna is not letting politics stand in the way of her deep commitment to help build schools there and educate as many children as possible."
Additional reporting by The Guardian