Today Africa lost a faithful champion, and ONE lost a true friend in the fight against extreme poverty.
In the early hours of the morning, Congressman Donald Milford Payne (NJ-10), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health and member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), lost his battle with colon cancer.
He was a fighter to the end, and his family, the state of New Jersey and the United States have much to be proud and grateful for a life spent in the service of humanity. Congressman Payne was a giant in US policy toward Africa and long considered the expert and guardian of Africa policy in the US House of Representatives. Since his arrival in Congress in 1988, when the Cold War was ending and US policy toward Africa was at an all time low, Congressman Payne was the member who — at every hearing and every opportunity — would ask “What about Africa?” When most policymakers dismissed the continent and challenges it faced, he remained optimistic, energetic and unapologetic, always asserting that “Africa matters.”
In Washington, D.C., Congressman Payne was a fixture at almost every event or gathering to raise the profile of Africa as a priority for US foreign policy. Nothing was too small or too much for him to do. One day, he could be in a small meeting with activists about promoting basic education for all kids, and the next he would be leading a Congressional Delegation to attend the inauguration of the first female president in Africa. One moment he could be serving ONE ice cream to congressional staff at our social to celebrate successes in African development, and an hour later on the House floor debating legislation to make the government Sudan accountable for the genocide in Darfur. He even got himself arrested protesting outside the embassy of Sudan, protesting the killings of its citizens by the government of Sudan.
Indeed he was a courageous man. During the Sudanese conflict, after visiting refugee camps in Chad, Congressman Payne would wade through the waters of the Wadis and sneak into southern Sudan to witness the atrocities of the Sudanese government against its own people. And even in its darkest days, Congressman Payne would not abandon the people of Somalia. In 2009, he nearly paid the ultimate price when he traveled there to observe the situation on the ground and his aircraft was fired upon by armed militants.
Congressman Payne traveled to virtually every African country — whether in peace or in conflict, in poverty or in prosperity, and he had an open-door policy in his office that enabled African activists and leaders to come and engage him about their concerns about policies of the US or their own governments. For the last 20 years, whenever new policies and bills were introduced relating to Africa, Congressional and Administration leaders and activists have always asked “What does Mr. Payne think about this?”
Photo credit: Noelle LuSane.
Congressman Payne leaves behind an impressive record that very much reflects his life’s work. On global health, he was one of the lead authors on the 2008 bill to renew PEPFAR, which is providing treatment for nearly 4 million people around the world with HIV. He fought for funding for tuberculosis programs, and co-chaired the Malaria Caucus. He was a lead author of the Sudan Peace Act, which laid out a political strategy to help end the war in Sudan and paved the way for the independence of South Sudan. He also introduced the Darfur Genocide Accountability Act to help stop the genocide in Darfur and championed an effort to divest New Jersey State pension funds from Sudan. On economic development, he was one of champions of the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act to promote US trade with African countries. He has supported legislation to ensure African countries have benefited from debt relief, peacekeeping efforts, agriculture programs, access to safe drinking water and to enroll millions of African kids in school for the first time.
Congressman Payne did more than his share to help better the world, and always wearing the biggest smile, as he navigated the corridors of Congress and sat through endless hearings. You could count on him — he always showed up to fight for Africa. As the tributes begin to flow from around the world to accompany this warrior of compassion to his rest, at ONE, we honor Congressman Payne by remembering and celebrating his achievements in the fight against global poverty. Most importantly, we honor him by carrying on his life’s work. As we continue the fight against global poverty, face new challenges and consider new solutions, we would do well to take a moment to ask ourselves ‘What would Congressman Payne think about this?”
Please leave your thoughts and tributes to Congressman Payne in the comments below. Or if you would like, Tweet him at @Payne10thNJ.