June 21, 2013
Barack Obama traveling to Africa
(REUTERS/Jason Reed)

President Obama can go to Africa next week with a clean conscience. The government of Tanzania, which had been in a years-long dispute with the State Department over a human trafficking judgment against one of its diplomats, has settled the case on the eve of the presidential trip.

I wrote two weeks ago about the case of diplomat Alan Mzengi, who in 2008 was ordered by a U.S. court to pay a $1 million judgment to a domestic servant he and his wife held against her will at their Bethesda home for four years while he was posted in Washington. The woman was maltreated and eventually escaped, but Mzengi didn’t pay the default judgment and instead returned to Tanzania, where he was reportedly working as an advisor to the president.

The victim was willing to accept only the $170,000 in back wages she was owed, but, despite years of efforts by the State Department, no serious offer emerged. Finally, Tanzania this week paid the $170,000; according to people familiar with the agreement, Mzengi himself paid a small amount of the total and his government provided the rest. The victim’s pro bono lawyer, Martina Vandenberg, said it was the first such payment for a case of diplomatic human trafficking in the United States.

There has been lots of yammering about the tens of millions of dollars it will cost to send the presidential entourage to Africa – but this six-figure payment goes some distance toward making the trip worthwhile.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000.