Pro-Africa U.S congressman Donald Payne dies from colon cancer
(AFP) Washington: US Representative Donald Payne, one of the most vocal forces in Congress on Africa who pressed for action on Darfur, Somalia and against disease, died Tuesday, his office said. He was 77.
Payne, who in 1988 became the first African American elected to the US Congress from New Jersey and was the state’s only black congressman at the time of his death, suffered from colon cancer.
The congressman, a member of President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party and former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, campaigned passionately for a more active US role in stopping the violence in Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Payne led a resolution, which was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives in July 2004, that declared the largely Arab and Muslim regime’s killings of Darfur’s black population to be genocide.
Obama, in a condolence statement, said that Payne had “lived a full and meaningful life” and had “made it his mission to fight for working families,” including through his support for affordable health care.
“He was a leader in US-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent,” Obama said.
Representative Nancy Pelosi, who is the top House Democrat and travelled with Payne to Darfur, hailed the late congressman for speaking out “on behalf of suffering people in some of the most difficult situations around the world.”
“He was admired by his colleagues; he earned respect around the world for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of human rights and the worth and dignity of every person,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Payne, who was arrested in 2001 as he protested outside of Sudan’s embassy in Washington, had a closer brush with danger in April 2009 when assailants fired mortars at his plane as he flew out of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
He had just made a rare visit to the lawless country in the hope of building support for Somalia’s transitional government. The Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants were suspected in the attack, which reportedly wounded Somalis.
Payne was also a central force in pressing the United States for a greater commitment to fight preventable diseases. In 2008, Congress authorized up to $48 billion over five years to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, largely in Africa.
The late congressman hailed the plan — which was providing life-saving anti-retroviral treatment to 3.9 million people around the world as of last year — as the signature achievement of Republican president George W. Bush.
But Payne was a staunch critic of Bush and joined liberal Democrats in calling for impeachment proceedings. The lawmakers accused Bush and then vice president Dick Cheney of manipulating intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq and of encouraging “torture” of prisoners.
In announcing he had cancer last month, Payne had vowed to fight for re-election to a 13th term this year. His district, which includes parts of Newark and Jersey City, is heavily Democratic.
His son, Donald Payne Jr., serves as president of the Newark Municipal Council.
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