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What was Joseph Kabila thinking? According to local and Belgian press, he gave Belgian Queen Paola 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 involved 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 Info 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 MPs have asked the Prime Minister Yves Leterme about the gift, and 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. 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.

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