Dorothée Gizenga – “Conflict diamonds started in artisanal diamond mining fields”

| October 3rd, 2013

Dorothée Gizenga – “Conflict diamonds started in artisanal diamond mining fields”
"Dorothée Gizenga – “Conflict diamonds started in artisanal diamond mining fields”"

Dorothée Gizenga has been Executive Director of the Diamond Development Initiative since 2008. Each day, she continues the long-term battle to improve the living and working conditions of artisanal miners. Rubel & Ménasché was keen to meet her and to share with you a little more about her background and her projects within the DDI.

Dorothée Gizenga, would you please introduce yourself and explain the story of your career?

I started my formal education in Chemistry at University Agostinho Neto in Angola, which I concluded at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and then studied Economics at York University in Toronto. Although, I do not exercise directly either of the fields, much of the learning does play a role in my present undertakings.

While living in Toronto, I worked for the Provincial Government of Ontario, which I left after 8 years of service and I was then involved with community organizations promoting the well-being and integration of immigrants to Canada, but also with the promotion of trade between African and Canadian business women, through an organization (CAABWA), co-founded with five other women, both of African and Canadian descent.

I later moved to Ottawa and did a one year fellowship with Foreign Affairs Canada at the Centre for Canadian Foreign Policy, which no longer exists.

My life in diamonds started when I joined the organization Partnership Africa Canada(PAC) , where I was a Program Manager for various diamond related projects, including the Kimberley Process, the International Conference for the Great Lakes and also the Prevention of Violence against Women in the Eastern DRC.

How did you come to work for DDI – the Diamond Development Initiative? What exactly do your duties involve?

PAC was one of the founding members of the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI). Having been intimately involved in the concept of DDI, once it was ready to be functional and the position of the Executive Director was advertised, I applied for the job and got it.

Could you give us a presentation about the DDI? What are its activities? Its missions? Its goals?

DDI was created to parallel the Kimberley Process to address development issues of the artisanal miners, of their families and communities. These issues are not part of the KP mandate which regulates the trade in diamonds to prevent conflict diamonds from contaminating the legitimate trade. Yet, sustainable conflict prevention will only be guaranteed through development. Conflict diamonds started in artisanal diamond mining fields, where extreme poverty, overcrowding, financial exploitation and smuggling provided rebel armies with the perfect environment for their “diamonds versus weapon” operations. Recognizing that KP could not do all, DDI was created to complement the KP with development solutions.

Our greatest task, which is also our mandate, is to convene stakeholders and interested parties: the multi-faceted industry (diamond industry from production through manufacturing to retail), the jewellery industry, the banking industry, governments, civil society, academics, donor agencies, around the issue of artisanal diamond mining to seek appropriate solutions for the development of the sector and of the people. Artisanal Miners are evidently also stakeholders for whom DDI works. Engaging with them to collaboratively determine and engage solutions is a tremendous task as well.

In very concrete terms, how do you work on a daily basis to improve the working conditions and lives of artisanal miners?

As an Executive Director, I am responsible for the sustainability of the organization. As such, I spend a lot of time liaising with the industry, donors and governments, to make our mission known and understood, to bring various types of support to DDI, including funds for programs we design to support artisanal miners. Because of budget constraints, we have a small number of staff. As such, I am also involved in project and program design, delivery, monitoring and evaluation. Thus, I travel a lot for projects and programs, but also for public relations, participation and presentation at different fora.

It is through our programs on the ground, which are designed to improve the working conditions of artisanal diamond miners or to establish a foundation that will lead to that DDI makes a difference to miners.

Who are your donors? Is it difficult to unite industry players around your cause?

We have been multi-funded by the industry, governments, foundations and donor agencies, and have received funding from: Governments of Belgium, Canada, European Union, Germany (GIZ), Sweden and UK. We are supported by mining companies: De Beers, Rio Tinto, and Harry Winston (former BHP Billiton), retailers such as Cartier, but also medium size retailers, such as Brilliant Earth in California, Todd Reed Inc in Colorado or Halloway Diamonds in Australia; service providers to retailers, such as Rubel & Menasché, and foundations, such as Anglo-American Group Foundation and Tiffany & Co. Foundation. These are a few. We recently received funds from two African Governments, which is a first in the international NGO world.

Our task is gigantic.  We need to ensure continuity of all our programs and conceive new solutions to remain relevant in the development field. The support we receive is invaluable, and we still need more because there is so much more that needs to be done. Development is process, most often a slow one and all donors need to stay on board for the ride to make it sustainable and eventually shorter.

How do you go about influencing the policies of governments in producer countries in particular?

We hold policy dialogues, either on the bilateral basis with countries or through the Kimberley Process Working Group on Alluvial Artisanal Production (KP WGAAP), which regroups all member countries with alluvial artisanal diamond mining.

What do you see as the opportunities and challenges facing the diamond industry in the future in terms of ethics?

Because of the highly profiled issue of conflict diamonds, the diamond industry is constantly scrutinized. In the quasi instant media environment of today, conflict diamonds gave way to other concerns such as environmental protection; confrontational violence between artisanal miners and large scale mining companies, including human rights violations by security forces; human rights violations by government forces; violence between artisanal miners; child labour and health and safety issues.

The industry needs to be ethical throughout the entire supply chain to receive an ethical seal of approval from the public in general and jewellery consumers in particular. Thus, it is important that the larger companies help the smaller and individual workers. And that those not involved in the retail sector which faces customers directly, still do their part to support the entire industry, without false pretensions of being safe behind a non-consumer wall.  Diamonds are not an essential good, but they are a “feel good” good. It is important for the future of the industry to keep it that way. That is where ethics truly come in.

“Diamonds are not an essential good, but they are a “feel good” good. It is important for the future of the industry to keep it that way. That is where ethics truly come in.”

What are your immediate missions?

•    Formalization of artisanal diamond miners and professionalization of the sector;
•    Delivery of development support to miners and their communities to address poverty, assist with and incentivize formalization;
•    Expanding and scaling up Development Diamonds Standards, introduced in Sierra Leone as a pilot, and which aim to systematically build and strengthen the capacity of artisanal miners for applying environmental and social standards and thus to be a contributing part of the ethical supply chain.

And do you have any personal projects you would like to share with us? Or any dreams?

Being born in the DRC, one of the countries where I have projects, I would like to see the country without the conflict, a conflict that has brought and continues to bring extreme suffering to the Congolese people. I want to see the workings of true reconstruction, and the end of all violence against Congolese women.

Click to see the DDI’s website

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