Tributes are pouring in for Sarah Obama, the step-grandmother of former U.S. President Barack Obama. Mama Sarah, as she was fondly called, died on Monday morning at a hospital in western Kenya. She was 99. Family spokesperson Sheikh Musa Ismail said she had been unwell for a week.
The matriarch of former President Obama’s Kenyan family, Mama Sarah promoted education for girls and orphans in her rural Kogelo village. “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.
Former Prime Minister of Kenya Raila Odinga described her as a matriarch, who single-handedly kept the family going years after her husband died.
“She was a philanthropist who mobilized funds to pay school fees for the orphans,” Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o said while offering his condolences to the people of Kogelo village.
President Obama’s half-sister, Auma Obama, said her “heart is broken”. “Just lost the most important person in my life – my gran, Mama Sarah. My heart is broken! But as I write, not able to stop the tears from pouring, I know I was blessed to have her for so long! My inspiration, my rock, my comfort zone, my safe space. Rest in peace Dani!” she tweeted.
Family sources say President Obama has been informed of the death and has sent his condolences.
Mama Sarah was the second wife of President Obama’s grandfather. She helped take care of President Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr. President Obama first met her during his 1988 trip to Kenya. He referred to her as “Granny” in his memoir, “Dreams from My Father”, and mentioned her again in his September 2014 speech to the UN General Assembly.
Mama Sarah was known for selling porridge and doughnuts at a local school. She later rose to world fame following the 2008 election of her step-grandson as the first Black U.S. president. She attended his first inauguration as president in 2009.
For years, Mama Sarah helped orphans through The Mama Sarah Obama Foundation, providing school materials, school fees, medical needs, among others. She loved education and saw to it that all the children of her family went to school. She was honored by the United Nations in 2014, receiving the inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Education Pioneer Award for her work supporting education.
She will be buried Tuesday. The funeral will be held under Islamic rites.