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Congressman Donald Payne, Advocate for Africa, Dies

US Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J. (file photo)

Congressman Donald Payne, the first African American elected to Congress from the northeastern state of New Jersey has died of colon cancer. The 77-year-old lawmaker was known as a dedicated advocate for more U.S. help for African nations.

Colleagues and activists are recalling Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, who died Tuesday, as a lawmaker who worked hard to help his constituents, and those who suffered overseas.

While in the House of Representatives, Payne was known as a de facto ambassador to Africa. He helped secure $100 million to help prevent and treat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Darius Mans, president of Africare in Washington, called Payne a committed legislator who cared dearly about the plight of Africans.

"Whenever you needed something done on Africa he did not delegate it, he made sure it happened. Whether it took phone calls to the White House, rallying members of Congress Donald Payne always delivered for Africa."

U.S. Congressman Donald Payne was elected to the House of Representatives in 1988, the first black congressman elected from New Jersey. In the Capitol, he championed many causes including education and global affairs. As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee he worked to promote democracy and protect human rights overseas.

On Capitol Hill as news of Payne's death spread some of his colleagues like Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee praised his nearly 24 years of service.

"Representative Payne sat in this section, he was a quiet, right, courageous man who I had the good fortune to travel, at the request of and sponsorship of CARE and the Gates Foundation to Rwanda and to the Congo last August," he said. "He cared about children greatly, he cared about education."

On foreign affairs Congressman Payne was the author of legislation that sought to provide famine relief to the African nation of Darfur and bring an end to the bloody civil war there. Last December, Voice of America interviewed Congressman Payne about his work in Africa.

"I have been very involved in Sudan since arriving in Congress and actually took my first trip there in 1989 or 90 down into Nimule and was in areas where the SPLA was waging war and have visited South Sudan maybe over a dozen times since then," he said.

In 2009, Payne escaped injury in a mortar attack on the airport in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. His plane managed to take off in time. He had just finished a visit there to discuss security issues with the country's leaders.

On domestic issues Payne, a former teacher, was instrumental in advancing policies to make a U.S. college education more affordable. Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described Donald Payne as a leader of conscience and a outspoken advocate of human rights for all people.