Congressman Donald Payne, a Democrat who represented his New Jersey district for 22 years, died from colon cancer early this morning. He was 77.
Mr. Payne will probably be best remembered for his relentless advocacy on Africa issues. He was the long time chair and/or ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Sub-committee that deals with Africa issues and Global Health. Over his career as an appropriator, he helped secure millions to fight HIV/AIDS and Malaria around the world. His advocacy on global health saved countless lives around the world.
He was also a great champion for human rights — particularly in Africa. He was among the first members of Congress to call attention to the emerging genocide in Darfur and was a founding member of the Sudan Caucus in the House of Representatives. He played an important role in helping to create the new country of the Republic of South Sudan out of a devastating civil war.
He would travel to some of the most difficult outposts in Africa–sometimes at personal risk. In September 2009, he visited Mogadishu while it was still in the grip of a civil war. Americans in general don’t visit Mogadishu, let alone members of Congress. When Al Shabaab learned of his presence, they launched mortar attacks at the airport as his plane was taking off.
Donald Payne will be missed not only in his New Jersey district, but by his other “constituents ” — the dispossessed in Africa and around the world. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this time. He was a great public servant who understood that promoting the health and welfare of the most vulnerable people around the world was in America’s best interest and was the right thing to do.
RIP, Donald Payne. Here is a great video tribute to Mr. Payne put together by the NGO Africare. It looks like it was created for an award or tribute ceremony a couple of years ago.