Sarah Obama, the matriarch of former President Barack Obama’s Kenyan family has died.
On Monday (March 29), The Associated Press confirmed Mama Sarah, the step-grandmother of the former U.S. president, passed away around 4 a.m. local time while being treated at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral hospital in Kisumu, Kenya.
“She died this morning. We are devastated,” Mama Sarah's daughter Marsat Onyango told the AP on a phone call.
“Mama was sick with normal diseases she did not die of COVID-19,” family spokesman Sheik Musa Ismail said, adding she had been sick for a week before being taken to the hospital.
Shortly after news of Mama Sarah's passing was shared online, Barack posted a heartfelt tribute to his "beloved grandmother" on social media, captioning a throwback photo of the two: "My family and I are mourning the loss of our beloved grandmother, Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama, affectionately known to many as “Mama Sarah” but known to us as “Dani” or Granny. Born in the first quarter of the last century, in Nyanza Province, on the shores of Lake Victoria, she had no formal schooling, and in the ways of her tribe, she was married off to a much older man while only a teen. She would spend the rest of her life in the tiny village of Alego, in a small home built of mud-and thatch brick and without electricity or indoor plumbing. There she raised eight children, tended to her goats and chickens, grew an assortment of crops, and took what the family didn’t use to sell at the local open-air market."
He added, "Although not his birth mother, Granny would raise my father as her own, and it was in part thanks to her love and encouragement that he was able to defy the odds and do well enough in school to get a scholarship to attend an American university. When our family had difficulties, her homestead was a refuge for her children and grandchildren, and her presence was a constant, stabilizing force. When I first traveled to Kenya to learn more about my heritage and father, who had passed away by then, it was Granny who served as a bridge to the past, and it was her stories that helped fill a void in my heart."
Barack additionally spoke of Sarah's accomplishments, writing, "During the course of her life, Granny would witness epochal changes taking place around the globe: world war, liberation movements, moon landings, and the advent of the computer age. She would live to fly on jets, receive visitors from around the world, and see one of her grandsons get elected to the United States presidency. And yet her essential spirit—strong, proud, hard-working, unimpressed with conventional marks of status and full of common sense and good humor—never changed."
44 concluded his tribute: "We will miss her dearly, but celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life."
According to the AP, Mama Sarah will be buried on Tuesday (March 30) "before midday and the funeral will be held under Islamic rites."
“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 the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said in a statement.
Mama Sarah dedicated her life to service, promoting education for girls and orphans. As noted by the AP, The Mama Sara Obama Foundation "helped provide food and education to children who lost their parents — providing school supplies, uniforms, basic medical needs, and school fees."
In 2014, in recognition of her work, the United Nations presented Mama Sarah with the inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Education Pioneer Award.
Photo: Getty Images