WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Board of Directors and staff of the National Endowment for Democracy are deeply saddened by the death of New Jersey Congressman Donald M. Payne, who served on the NED Board of Directors for nine years from 1994-2003. He was awarded NED's Democracy Service Medal in 2003 for his tireless efforts on behalf of a democratic future in Africa and other countries throughout the world.
"There is no one in the U.S. Congress who has been more dedicated or more personally involved in the cause of human rights, development, and democracy in Africa than Don Payne," said NED president Carl Gershman. "His leadership made an enormous difference across the African continent, resulting in real, positive change."
From the successful struggle to achieve democracy in South Africa, to the protracted efforts to remove the dictators from Nigeria, to his work to heal the ravages of war in Congo, Liberia, Somalia, and Sudan, Payne played a significant role both in the Congress and at NED. He effectively combined a thoughtful, low-key approach with an intense determination to fight injustice, and not only in Africa. Payne traveled frequently to many parts of the world where democracy is at best a long-term prospect, sometimes even at personal risk, in each place giving democrats hope through his interest and involvement.
Ethiopian democracy activist Birtukan Midekssa, currently a NED Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow, remembered Payne: "It is such sad news and a huge loss for the cause of democracy in Africa. He was one of those who fought hard to get the Ethiopian political prisoners released in 2007. He even managed to get a bill passed in defense of democracy and human rights in Ethiopia. And he wrote an official letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister asking for my release when I was imprisoned in 2008."
During his nine-year tenure on the NED Board, Payne was the member responsible for overseeing NED's program in Africa. Despite a heavy congressional workload, he not only devoted great time and energy to reviewing the Africa projects and reporting on them to the NED Board, but also met regularly with the staff of NED and its core institutes, as well as with visiting grantees. Under Payne's leadership, the Africa program flourished and became a valuable partner for African democrats, both in those countries where democracy is taking root, and in the more difficult situations where so many courageous Africans are fighting to defend human rights and build societies of tolerance and peace.
"He was an extraordinarily warm and generous human being," said Dave Peterson, NED's Senior Director for Africa. "His door seemed always open to the hundreds of constituents and activists who knew he was the go-to person for his district and for Africa. He was undaunted by what was politically convenient or logistically possible, routinely haranguing dictators, visiting political prisoners, and flying off on grueling tours of Africa, famously visiting Mogadishu just a couple years ago, even as al-Shabab militia fired on his plane as it departed."
The NED Board of Directors and the entire NED staff extend our deepest sympathy to the family, friends, and staff of Congressman Payne and are deeply grateful for the contributions he made to the cause of freedom, peace, and democracy in Africa and around the world.
SOURCE National Endowment for Democracy