Memorial plans for site where Madonna was to build school


WHEN MADONNA came to the Malawian capital Lilongwe to cut a ribbon and plant a tree at a groundbreaking ceremony in 2009, hopes were high for her $15 million elite academy for girls.

Three years later, the site looks like a quarried mine, with little activity beyond footballers kicking a ball around.

Madonna’s plan was scrapped last year without a brick being laid. Malawi has now come up with an alternative plan for the eyesore. It will build a monument to national heroes on the spot where the singer once promised to change hundreds of young lives.

Daniel Liwimbi, tourism minister, said: “It was a cabinet decision to construct the heroes’ acre at this site.” Unlike countries such as Zimbabwe, Malawi does not have such a memorial. The republic’s first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who died three years after losing the country’s first democratic poll, is buried in a mausoleum in Lilongwe.

The third president, Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office in April, was buried at the family mausoleum near his home village in southern Malawi.

The new project is likely to cost the struggling southern African nation millions of pounds. Liwimbi said: “Malawians deemed to have done a heroic endeavour of national importance, and selected by committee, which will scrutinise whatever they did, will be buried there.”

Madonna has adopted two children from Malawi. After announcing that plans for the girls’ academy had been scrapped, her charity, Raising Malawi, said it was teaming up with the non-profit group buildOn to set up 10 schools instead.

This provoked criticism from Malawian education officials over a lack of consultation. Raising Malawi’s website says construction of the third of these schools had been completed last month. The charity claims it will support scholarships for 10 girls to attend four years of secondary school.

Malawi’s president, Joyce Banda, expressed reservations about Madonna’s ventures in an April interview.

“Madonna came to Malawi and Madonna came to build a school, an academy like the one Oprah [Winfrey] built [in South Africa], but she changed her mind, so I have a problem with a lot of things around the adoption of the children and the changing of the mind and then coming back to build community schools,” she said.

– (Guardian service)