By Mabvuto Banda

Madonna’s decision to entrust the California based Kabbalah International Centre with funds to build the $15 million girls’ academy in Malawi, may have been the reason why the school project failed in the poor southern African nation.

When Madonna founded Raising Malawi, she got on board Michael Berg, as chief executive, and the two began their highly publicised mission to build a $15 million all-girls academy in Malawi.

The Kabbalah Centre, controlled by the Berg family for more than 40 years, has been accused of  funding the lavish lifestyles of the family as investigations by some leading US media houses reveal.

They estimate that the organisation may have assets of about $260 million.

In April 2011, a Newsweek investigation exposed the lavish lifestyles of the Berg family and linked the Kabbalah International Centre to posy like schemes that stole from people and businesses.

By Mabvuto Banda

Gogo Munthali dissolves into tears every morning. She worries about what to feed her five grandchildren orphaned by HIV/Aids.

Munthali was among the first beneficiaries of Malawi’s farm input subsidy programme (FISP) in Rumphi, which lies over 400 km north of Lilongwe, when it was introduced some eight years ago by late President Bingu wa Mutharika.

About 1.7 million poor farmers were targeted providing them with two 50kg bags of inorganic fertilisers, improved hybrid and open pollinating maize seed at 50 % less.

A village headman in each village assisted by the Village Development Committees (VDC), identified the families with priority given to households headed by children and women.

The results were phenomenal; maize output almost tripled in the first two years from an average of 1.06 ton/ha in 2000- 2005 to 2.27 ton/ha in 2009/2010 pushing GDP growth to an average of 7.4 %, higher than the World Bank recommended rate of 6% for sub Saharan Africa.

Inflation slid into single digits, benchmark interest rates went down from around 40% to 25% for the first time in two decades. Food security at household level also improved. For the first three years, Munthali’s yields doubled from 10 bags of maize to 20 bags. But today, the 65-year-old widow is desperately poor and feeding her grandchildren has become an everyday struggle.

“Fertilizer for the last four years has been arriving late after the first rains…I have had to plant my crop three weeks late and this has reduced my harvest drastically,” she says.

But what worries Munthali more is Samson, the youngest of her grandchildren, who looks sickly and scrawny because he has fully blown AIDS. “Samson may not be with me for long; he is on treatment and I can’t give him the food he needs,” she says looking forlorn and lost.

Samson, 10, is a statistic in a country where UNAIDS says 200,000 children aged between 0-14 years are HIV positive and over 500,000 are orphaned.