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Diamondgate: Belgian Queen accepts diamonds from Congo's Joseph Kabila

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Olivier Pollet/AP

(Read caption) The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo Joseph Kabila, left, smiles as he talks with Queen Paola of Belgium during a gala dinner in Kinshasa, on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. The Belgian royals, together with 14 other heads of state, will attend celebrations surrounding the country's 50th anniversary of independence from its former colonial master, Belgium.

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What was Joseph Kabila thinking? According to Congolese and Belgian press, President Kabila gave Queen Paola of Belgium a diamond necklace, earrings, and bracelet on the occasion of Congo's 50th anniversary celebrations. A bit of a PR catastrophe. The whole point of the pomp and speeches was to emphasize the country's new-found sovereignty after years of war, not to remind us of the sordid past – Belgian colonialism, big man politics, and blood diamonds.

All parties have been involved in damage control. The Conglese Embassy in Brussels published a statement denying the gift's existence altogether, saying that the royal couple had received, like all other guests, a watch with a symbol of the 50th anniversary emblazoned. Minister of Information Lambert Mende said the gift of diamonds existed, but that it had been given by the first lady Olive Lembe. Diamonds and gold are produced in the Congo, he added, why not make such a present?

The royal press secretary confirmed that they had received the gift and announced that it will be given to the royal donation, which, as far as I can understand, belongs to the state and could be drawn on to reduce the growing national deficit. Belgian parliamentarians have asked Prime Minister Yves Leterme about the gift, and Mr. Leterme had already called the celebrations "a true waste," due to the costly parades and pomp involved.

So why did Kabila do it? Was he eager to make new friends in Belgium? Impress the king and queen? Whatever the reason, it was a throwback to the pomp of olden times, when Mobutu would send diplomats away with envelopes of cash and jewels. Not in good taste. US President Obama gave the Queen of England an iPod with some music on it – that might have been a better idea.

I'm sure King Albert would have enjoyed some Werra Son and Feix Wazekwa

--- Jason Stearns blogs at Congo Siasa.


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