Obama family matriarch, Mama Sarah, dies in Kenyan hospital at 99

Then-Sen. Barrack Obama greets his grandmother Sarah Obama at their rural home in Siaya, Kisumu, Kenya on  Aug. 26, 2006, during his first visit in 14 years.

NAIROBI, Kenya – Sarah Obama, the matriarch of Barack Obama’s Kenyan family, died, relatives and officials confirmed Monday. She was at least 99 years old.

Mama Sarah, as the step-grandmother of the former U.S. president was called, promoted education for girls and orphans in her rural Kogelo village. She died around 4 a.m. local time while being treated at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral hospital in Kisumu, Kenya’s third-largest city in the country’s west, according to her daughter Marsat Onyango.

“She died this morning. We are devastated,” Onyango told The Associated Press on a phone call.

“Mama was sick with normal diseases; she did not die of COVID-19,” family spokesman Sheik Musa Ismail said, adding that she had tested negative for the coronavirus. He said she had been ill for a week before being taken to the hospital.

Barack Obama sent his condolences.

Former President Barack Obama and his step-grandmother Sarah Obama, right, attend an opening ceremony for the Sauti Kuu Sports, Vocational and Training Centre in his ancestral home of Kogelo, Kenya, in July 2018.

She will be buried Tuesday 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,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.

She will be remembered for her work to promote education to empower orphans, Kisumu Gov. Anyang Nyong’o said, offering his condolences to the people of Kogelo village for losing a matriarch. 

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