Former US President Obama’s grandmother Sarah dies at 99

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Former US President Obama’s grandmother Sarah dies at 99


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Mama Sarah Obama. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Sarah Obama, the matriarch of former US President Barack Obama’s Kenyan family, died yesterday morning at a hospital in Kisumu aged 99.
  • Born in 1922, Sarah Obama sprung to international fame after her grandson became the 44th president of the US in 2008.
  • She shone the light in the once sleepy Kogelo village in Siaya County, attracting tourists who were eager to learn about President Obama’s Kenyan roots.

Sarah Obama, the matriarch of former US President Barack Obama’s Kenyan family, died yesterday morning at a hospital in Kisumu aged 99.

Her daughter, Marsat Onyango, broke the news after which the family dispelled rumours that she succumbed to Covid-19.

Born in 1922, Sarah Obama sprung to international fame after her grandson became the 44th president of the US in 2008. She shone the light in the once sleepy Kogelo village in Siaya County, attracting tourists who were eager to learn about President Obama’s Kenyan roots.

Her popularity first started when Mr Obama, then a junior senator from Illinois, visited Kenya in 2006.

Widely known as Mama Sarah, she was the second wife of Hussein Onyango Obama, President Obama’s paternal grandfather who died in 1975. Hussein Obama served in the British army as a cook during World War II in Burma, present-day Myanmar.

Kogelo residents and neighbouring communities will remember her for the commitment to promote education.

Through her philanthropic work at Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, she devoted her time and resources to help young people access education.

This was captured in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s condolence message.

“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation. We’ve lost a strong, virtuous woman, a matriarch who held together with the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” he said, adding that she would be remembered for her philanthropic work, especially in her Nyang’oma-Kogelo home in Siaya.

Ms Obama interacted with her famous grandson a few times.

In his 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father, the former US President acknowledged his Kenyan roots and referred to Mama Sarah as “granny”, recounting his first visit to Kogelo in 1988.

She attended President Obama’s inauguration in Washington DC in 2009, presenting him with a whisk, a symbol of power in Luo culture. Ms Obama defended her grandson’s religion and place of birth following questions from his political adversaries about his identity after clinching power.

Mr Obama visted his grandmother in Kogelo in 2018, two years after leaving office. In 2015, during an official state visit to Kenya, President Obama hosted the family to a dinner at Villa Rossa Kempinski.

She will be laid to rest Tuesday at her Kogelo home.

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