Madonna in Malawi. Celebritized Interventions and Local Politics of Development in the South

This chapter analyses how Madonna’s humanitarian work has been received in Malawi, and how these perceptions are connected to local politics of development in the country. The data, collected during six months ethnographic research, include participant observation, Malawian newspaper articles, online commenting, as well as formal interviews with NGO officials. The chapter situates Madonna’s local humanitarianism within in the wider context of Malawi’s recent political history of a democratic transition and a massive growth of NGOs. In this context, there are multiple interpretations of Madonna’s humanitarian work. While the middle-class and the elite debate Madonna’s authenticity as a humanitarian as either genuine or a matter of cynical branding, the rural poor are more concerned with their everyday survival and the limited extent to which they can influence how and whether this humanitarianism benefits them. The chapter concludes that a personified celebrity intervention may illuminate the contradictions between how development is represented in the North and how it is experienced in the South, and it may also trigger local debates around development, elitism and corruption. However in a country like Malawi these debates tend to ignore the voices of the most marginalised and fail to fundamentally question entrenched inequalities.


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