London - As is always the case when Madonna Louise Ciccone rolls into town, a flurry of frantic activity heralded the arrival of the legendary superstar in the Malawian capital last week.
Preparations were in place long before the 58-year-old singer descended in her Gulf-IV private jet and stepped onto the Tarmac at the city’s international airport.
There were the airport officials waiting to whisk her through the VIP lounge usually reserved for government officials and the convoy of SUVs on hand to whizz her through the streets of the city to the exclusive country lodge she uses as her base on visits to the tiny nation.
There, too, was the warm, meticulously-planned welcome awaiting her at the £100-a-night (about R1 600) per person resort where, as usual, every one of the 16 luxury thatched suites had been set aside for her, to guarantee absolute privacy.
But, above all, there were the last-minute legal machinations leading up to the highly controversial decision to allow the mother-of-four to adopt twin sisters from the impoverished African country.
Having already been given permission to adopt David Banda in 2006, and then Mercy James in 2009, the twice-divorced single mother was granted custody of four-year-old Esther and Stella Mwale during a flying visit to Malawi. She has two other children, 20-year-old Lourdes and 16-year-old Rocco, from previous relationships.
But as she jetted out of the capital Lilongwe last Wednesday evening, heading to New York with her new daughters in tow, mega-rich Madonna left behind an ongoing row about how she managed to adopt twin girls whose father is still alive.
What’s more, how did she manage to satisfy the government’s supposedly strict rules on inter-country adoption, in particular, the rules which stipulate foreigners must be resident in Malawi for 18 months before they can adopt?
"The law needs to be reviewed," said Alfred Seza Munika, director of Malawi’s Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre. "It should be made clear to say what are the set procedures."
Fears have also been raised by human rights groups that the publicity surrounding Madonna’s high-profile adoptions are encouraging poorer relatives to hand over babies and young children to orphanages, when what they need is support and encouragement to keep and care for them within their own extended families.
"We are very worried about this latest adoption," I was told by Maxwell Matewere, Director of Eye Of The Child, a children’s human rights’ charity in Malawi.
"It sends out the wrong signal to the orphanages. It opens up for more children to be recruited.
"We used to have a culture of extended families caring for children who have lost one or both parents. But families are now being actively told that orphanages are the best place for children when clearly the best place for them is with their own families.
"It’s unjust to our culture and traditions and it’s unjust to our children who have no voice."
So how on earth, given that she is a US citizen and not resident in Malawi, did Madonna manage to adopt yet two more children from one of the poorest nations in the world?
Well, it goes without saying that her extensive charity work in the country has helped.
Aside from the millions she has poured into her orphans’ charity, Raising Malawi, which was launched in 2006 — the same year she and her then husband Guy Ritchie applied to adopt David Banda — Madonna has pumped £6-million into her latest project, the construction of a paediatric surgery ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi’s second largest city.
According to last week’s judgment which was made at the High Court of Malawi, the singer has "established a presence in Malawi and is often in the country for her charitable work".
And having got around the ‘residency’ problem seven years ago, when she adopted her daughter, Mercy, her latest adoption bid was plain sailing.
Back in April 2009, Justice Esmie Chombo turned down her application to adopt Mercy, whose 14-year-old mother had died shortly after giving birth to her, arguing that "Ms Madonna" did not fit the definition of a "resident", having "jetted into the country during the weekend just days prior to the hearing of this application."
But the decision was overturned two months later by three Supreme Court judges who argued that Madonna had a "targeted long-term presence aimed at ameliorating the lives of more disadvantaged children in Malawi".
At last week’s hearing at the High Court, a rather modest one-storey red-brick building in Lilongwe, Justice Fiona Mwale referred back to the 2009 appeal court hearing, saying that having proved her status as ‘resident’ once before, there was no need for Madonna to do so again.
Nor was the fact that Madonna is only two years shy of her 60th birthday seen as a barrier to adopting the two girls, although the super-fit singer had to undergo various health checks to ensure she could care for them.
According to a rigorous Adoption Home Study Report, she was examined by her own doctor and ‘meets and exceeds the needs of health and physical fitness required for this adoption’.
Indeed, perhaps not surprisingly given her notoriously strenuous exercise regime, she was found by the court to have a "clean bill of health" and "demonstrated vigour".
A 17-page court ruling seen by the Mail gives a fascinating insight into the lengths to which Madonna went to ensure that she would be seen as a reliable and trustworthy single parent to the young girls, although it made clear that no money was offered as part of the adoption.
The report reveals that Madonna is "a believer in God" and is opposed to smacking as well as "abusive language" when it comes to bringing up children. Nothing was said of her recent foul-mouthed rant against US President Donald Trump when she used the F-word three times while speaking in front of live television cameras during the Women’s March in Washington last month.
And there was no mention of the fact that she lost custody of her son Rocco last year after agreeing to an out-of-court settlement allowing him to live with his father, British film director Guy Ritchie, in London.
Instead, the report stated that Rocco, and his older sister Lourdes, who no longer lives at home, had a "healthy sibling relationship" with both David and Mercy.
Lourdes, said the report, had a tattoo of her younger sister’s name and planned to be "an emotional support" to her mother.