March 6, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – Donald Payne, the two-decades U.S. Congressman who took deep interest in African issues, has passed away on Tuesday at the age of 77 after a brief battle with colon cancer.
- Late U.S. congressman Donald Payne
The Democratic party lawmaker has been one of the most vocal voices in Washington on the Darfur conflict since it erupted in 2003. He was the main driving force behind a 2004 congressional resolution that declared the killings of Darfur’s black population to be genocide.
"As the highest ranked Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, Rep. Payne worked tirelessly to protect human rights and provide humanitarian aid to developing countries, particularly in Africa. He also served as a former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and most recent Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Inc." said a statement by Payne’s office today.
U.S. president Barack Obama, in a condolence statement, said that Payne "was a leader in US-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent".
Representative Nancy Pelosi, who is the top House Democrat and traveled 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.
The news of Payne’s death drew an outpour of sadness from Sudanese particularly in the south and Darfur.
"With greatest sadness and sorrow - my tears are rolling down my cheeks to have learnt of the death of a true honorable US politician; a man of solidarity, a US politician and a friend of the marginalized people of the Sudan and especially the South - Representative Donald Payne has gone to meet His Creator" said Suzanne Jambo who is South Sudan’s ruling party National Secretary for External Relation.
"Rep. Donald Payne, always, always championed our Cause and welcomed NUMEROUSLY the [Sudan people Liberation Movement] SPLM then led by the Late Hero Dr. John Garang. We shall forever be grateful, cherish, honor and remember you Rep Donald Payne - May God R. I. P." Jambo said.
South Sudan gained its independence from the north last July as the outcome of a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil and gave southerners the right of self-determination on whether they want to secede from the Arab-Muslim dominated north.
Darfur rebel groups also hailed one of the key U.S. champions of their cause.
The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) led by Abdul-Wahid Nur described Payne as a "a noble man known for his work on human rights, liberties, and dignity of all people; particularly in Africa".
"On behalf of people of Sudan and Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army extends condolences to the family of Rep. Donald Payne. He would be always remembered for his relentless struggle for genocide victims in Darfur and other parts of Sudan. May the creator rest his soul in peace"read the SLM-Nur statement.
Malik Agar who heads the Sudan people Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) as well as the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition group said that he was "deeply saddened" on the news.
"Payne was a great defender of human rights and a staunch supporter of liberation movements. We in Sudan owe a lot to Mr. Payne who has gone from our sights, but never from our hearts".
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.