Doroth’ee Gizenga, Leading Light for Small Diamond Miners, Dies

Photo Credit: DDI.

The diamond mining industry is mourning the loss of  Doroth’ee Gizenga, a world-renowned human rights defender and tireless advocate for sustainable, artisanal diamond mining.  She was 60.   Widely regarded as an industry bridge between diamond miners and big industry players, Ms. Gizenga succumbed to diabetes-related complications on February 18 in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Gizenga was born in 1961 in Kisangani, DRC, and held Canadian citizenship. She spoke five languages and holds degrees in Economics and Chemistry. She was a Gemologist, trained at the Gemological Institute of America. 

Gizenga is the daughter of Antoine Gizenga, a prominent politician and one-time Deputy Prime Minister in the DRC and leader of the Unified Lumumbist Party, founded in 1964 by supporters of Patrice Lumumba.  Gizenga and her family went into exile in 1965 following the assassination of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

In a press release, the RESOLVE Leadership described the 2016  Diamonds Do Good Award Winner as a champion for social justice, an “industry bridge and a driven go-getter, who could communicate with people across all segments of the industry and society.”  

But perhaps for all her achievements, Gizenga will be remembered most fondly for her selfless work to improve the lives and working conditions for small diamond mining communities in DR Congo and Africa, as well as her contribution to the fight against conflict diamond trade.

Individuals engage in artisanal and small-scale mining to supplement income in areas where unemployment is rife. An estimated 1.5 million artisanal and small-scale miners work in the Congo region today.  

Realizing that artisanal diamond miners had been left out of the diamond regulatory Kimberley Process, Gizenga, with others, founded the Diamond Development Initiative (DDI) in 2008 to help improve the working conditions for miners and formalize social-economic conditions in artisanal diamond mining. 

“We go beyond regulation, to transform and change people’s lives and the economies of the countries where these miners live,” Gizenga has said. 

DDI has been instrumental in documenting artisanal miners and bringing them into the industry mainstream so they can benefit from the trade. Through the DDI, small miners have been empowered and equipped with critical skills like how to price their diamonds for maximum returns. Mobile schools have been built to cater to the education needs of children in mining communities and child miners rescued from the mines and brought into the school system to guarantee a better future.  

Gizenga served as Executive Director of DDI from its inception in 2008. She played a vital advocacy role and helped forge critical partnerships between governments, non-governmental organizations and industry players and build programs to strengthen communities. 

Through her work with the Partnership Africa Canada (now IMPACT), Gizenga campaigned against the sourcing of minerals in conflict areas and helped to shine the global spotlight on the injustices and human rights abuses surrounding blood diamond mining. 

She won the support of like-minded industry players and world leaders and was instrumental in mainstreaming ethical diamond mining and in changing for the better, the lives of miners and transforming the economies of countries where these minerals are found.

Outside the diamond industry, Gizenga was instrumental in the creation of the powerful Canadian and African Women Business Alliance and the Canadian Social Development Council. She was also a board member of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.  

Dorothee Gizenga returned home to the DRC in 2019 after 37 years living in Canada and joined politics, in the footsteps of her father who died in exile in the same year.  At the time of her death, she was the party secretary-general.  She is survived by her son, Andr’e, and her extended family.


Elizabeth Gathu

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