Mar 6 (GIN) – New Jersey’s only black congressman, Donald Payne, was a singular voice for the cause of democracy in Africa, even in the face of opposition by American business interests and other Members of Congress.

He visited more African countries than most of his counterparts on the Hill. One tour of 12 days with President Bill Clinton in 1998 took him to Ghana, Uganda, Rwanda, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal. It led to a new appreciation of African countries advancing toward democracy.

After a short battle with colon cancer, Congressman Payne passed away on Mar. 6. He was 77. His death was marked in a number of Nigerian newspapers and websites.

Still early in his career, Congressman Payne had drafted legislation urging a return to democracy after elections clearly won by the civilian Moshood Abiola were annulled by Nigeria’s military. The bill won 56 co-sponsors but ultimately failed to end the country’s spiral deeper into military rule and corruption.

He was among the first to label the killings in the Darfur region of Sudan as “genocide” and in 2009, on another trip to Africa, he narrowly escaped a mortar attack in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

A government fellowship in the Congressman’s name was announced this week, modeled after the State Dept.’s Rangel Fellowship Program. It will provide support for graduate work for minority students and entry into the USAID’s foreign service.