Prince Charles and Camilla host leaders for Commonwealth dinner in Rwanda

·5 min read
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner at the Marriott Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall arrive for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner at the Marriott Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

They had posed for the family photo, delivered the speeches and dealt with the politics behind closed doors.

On Friday night, it was time to let their hair down as the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall joined presidents and prime ministers for the traditional Commonwealth dinner in Kigali, Rwanda.

There was plenty of glamour – the Duchess, elegant in the blue Bruce Oldfield gown in which she recently posed for Vogue and giving her new Garter star its first official airing.

Carrie Johnson was in a black Needle and Thread gown, and then there was her husband, the Prime Minister, shirt hanging out and shouting about democracy.

The Government Dinner is traditionally held on the opening day of the biannual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

The Prince and the Duchess were official hosts for the evening, greeting heads of Government at the Marriott Hotel on behalf of the Queen.

The event has a rather less formal air than on previous such occasions, perhaps illustrated by the Duchess’s decision not to don a tiara.

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Marriott Hotel dinner - Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall arrive at the Marriott Hotel dinner - Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The jovial atmosphere perhaps bordered on relief after a heavy day.

Not only had Boris Johnson suffered the biggest by-election defeat in British history but Baroness Scotland was re-elected as Secretary General of the Commonwealth, as fellow leaders defied his attempts to have her ousted.

One assumes that the drubbing was behind his proclamations of “democracy, democracy” as he raised a dismissive hand in the air.

Prince Charles addresses guests at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
Prince Charles addresses guests at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

For the Prince, a landmark speech about slavery and severing ties with the monarchy delivered, it was time to relax.

Having also survived his one-to-one meeting with Mr Johnson with no further awkward references to his personal views on the Rwanda migrant policy, he could afford a few jokes.

To laughter, the Prince expressed relief that the event was not being conducted by Zoom, with no mute buttons to cause confusion.

In a brief address, he also thanked his hosts for the “special” visit, noting that Rwanda boasted the highest number of female parliamentarians in the Commonwealth, and hailing the sporting prowess and world-class dishes such as Maple syrup and Nasi Goreng, of which gathered nations could be proud.

Prince Charles during his speech - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
Prince Charles during his speech - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

“Who knows, with a record six Commonwealth countries qualified for the World Cup finals in November perhaps football can be added to that impressive list,” he said.

“One can but dream.”

Earlier, the Prince and Duchess stood to greet leaders in the traditional line-up.

The first to speak to them were Mr and Mrs Johnson who were greeted warmly, while Carrie gave the heir to the throne a low curtsey.

After welcoming all 54 leaders and their partners, the royals joined a reception on an outdoor terrace for around half an hour.

The menu, selected to recognise cultural, religious, and dietary sensitivities, featured avocado and cucumber roulade on a seeded cracker with roasted red pepper and mango salsa.

There was supreme of chicken with wild mushrooms, wilted amaranth leaves and cassava croquettes followed by passion fruit cheesecake with watermelon, lime and yoghurt.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson arrive for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Carrie Johnson arrive for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Dinner - Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

The coffee came courtesy of a local social enterprise organisation that provides work for female Rwandan coffee growers.

There was also Mauritian rum, Scotch whisky, Australian brandy and Maltese Limoncello Liqueur.

Music played during the dinner was performed by three Rwandan musicians, including one playing the Inanga, a traditional instrument.

The table centre pieces – traditional Rwandese woven baskets known as "peace baskets" – were woven especially for the dinner by Irebe women weavers using eco-friendly raw materials such as long grass, from the swamps and mountain in Rwanda.

The craft is call Agaseke and the baskets are traditionally used to carry gifts to friends and family, a symbol of peace, gifting, and friendship.

The baskets had been found by the Prince’s team at Clarence House when they did a preliminary visit and Buckingham Palace so loved them they decided to incorporate them in the decorations for the night.

Meanwhile, the Prince likely recognised the table centre mats, made in the CHOGM 2022 logo colours by women at the Mayange Reconciliation Village which he visited on Wednesday.

Even the napkins used during the dinner were produced by the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre, a project which aimed to address gender-based violence, gender inequality and discrimination.

Before the dinner two toasts were proposed: the first to the Commonwealth given by the Prime Minister of Tonga and the second, to the Queen, given by the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, who spoke warmly of the Commonwealth’s love and admiration for Her Majesty.

Prince Charles - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
Prince Charles - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Perhaps wisely, there was no mention of earlier comments made by Antigua’s foreign minister, who had suggested the Caribbean island planned to “close the circle” and become a republic.

The Prince was seated alongside Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and the First Lady of Sierra Leone, Fatima Bio, while the Duchess was sandwiched between Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.

The table was set up with thoughtful pieces - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
The table was set up with thoughtful pieces - REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

All Commonwealth leaders had a gold goblet with their emblem and country engraved on it by their place setting, a thoughtful gesture by Buckingham Palace.

Before departing for Kigali International Airport, Charles and Camilla met staff who had played a role in delivering the dinner, or helped elsewhere to make their visit so memorable.

They were due to land back in the UK on Saturday.