Africa

Barack Obama’s Kenyan ‘granny’ Mama Sarah dies, aged 99

File photo taken on 19 November 2014, showing founder and CEO of the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, Sarah Obama, speaking at the United Nations in New York City.


File photo taken on 19 November 2014, showing founder and CEO of the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, Sarah Obama, speaking at the United Nations in New York City.

PHOTO: Jemal Countess/Getty Images via AFP

  • Former US president Barack Obama’s
    “granny”, Sarah Obama, died in western Kenya at the age of 99.
  • While not a blood relation, Barack Obama referred
    to Sarah as his grandmother, calling her “granny”.
  • Mama Sarah rose to world fame with the 2008
    election of her step-grandson Barack as the first black US president.

Nairobi – Sarah Obama, the grandmother of former US
president Barack Obama, has died aged 99 in western Kenya, her daughter told AFP
on Monday.

“It is true she has gone to be with the Lord,
she passed on this morning,” said an emotional Marsat Onyango, her
daughter.

Sarah Obama, popularly known as Mama Sarah, had
been admitted to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in
Kisumu.

Family spokesperson Sheikh Musa Ismail said she had
been unwell for a week, but had tested negative for Covid-19.

Ismail said the former president had “sent his
condolences”.

Hot porridge and doughnuts

Once a simple country woman, Sarah Obama was for a
long time best known for the hot porridge and doughnuts she served at a local
school.

But she rose to world fame with the 2008 election
of her step-grandson Barack as the first black US president.

Already a national celebrity after the former
Illinois senator Barack Obama visited Kenya in 2006, Sarah’s modest homestead
became a tourist attraction with Obama’s November 2008 election triumph.

Born in 1922 in a village on the shores of Lake
Victoria, Sarah was the third wife of Hussein Onyango Obama, Barack Obama’s
grandfather, a herbalist and a village elder who fought for the British in
Burma, now called Myanmar.

Onyango Obama, who died in 1975, is said to be the
first man to swap goatskin clothing for trousers in his village. He returned
from the war in Burma with a gramophone and a picture of a white woman he
claimed to have married.

Barack senior

Although not a blood relation, Barack Obama often
referred to Sarah as his grandmother, calling her “granny”.

On his trip back to Kenya as US president, he met
with her, among other family members in Nairobi.

After leaving office, he travelled to her home in
the village of Kogelo in 2018, joking he had been unable to do so in 2015 as
his jet was too big to land in Kisumu.

Barack Obama greeting his grandmother, Sarah Obama

File photo taken on 26 August 2006, showing then-US senator Barack Obama greeting his grandmother, Sarah Obama, at their rural home in Siaya, Kisumu.

Obama is linked to his Kenyan family via his father
Barack senior, a pipe-smoking economist who Obama has admitted he “never
truly” knew.

He met Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, in Hawaii.
But he walked out when Obama was just two and died in a car crash in Nairobi in
1982, aged 46.

‘Strong, virtuous woman’

Obama senior had worked in the government of Jomo
Kenyatta, who led Kenya at independence from Britain until his death 14 years
later in 1978.

The two men did not get on well, with Kenyatta – the
father of Kenya’s current president Uhuru Kenyatta – sacking Obama senior, and
blackballing him for further government jobs, an ostracisation that would help
fuel alcoholism.

Kenyatta said on Monday the country had “lost
a strong, virtuous woman. A matriarch who held together the Obama family and
was an icon of family values.”

He said she would be remembered for her
philanthropic work, saying she had initiated several community development
projects in her village.

Mama Sarah will be buried on Tuesday at her home,
in line with Islamic traditions, said Ismail.



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