Sarah Obama, the step-grandmother of President Barack Obama, died on March 29. (AP Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

While Sarah Ogwel Onyango Obama may not have been President Barack Obama’s biological grandmother, her nature as a leader, advocate and voice for the underrepresented was something that the former U.S. President shared with his “Granny,” who died on March 29 in a Kenyan hospital.  According to reports, she was at least 99 years old.

Affectionately known as “Mama Sarah,” Obama is referred to as the second or third wife of President Obama’s grandfather, who helped to raise his father.  In his adulthood, President Obama grew closer to his step-grandmother, often lovingly called “Granny or Dani” even writing about her in his memoir, “Dreams from My Father.”  Although she had no formal education and was married off to an older man as a teen, “Mama Sarah” was a driving force behind the Obama family.

“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,” President Obama said in a statement.  “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 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.”

President Obama spent quality time with his grandmother on a trip to Kenya in 1988, where he showered her with love, hugs and gifts according to video footage circulating from his visit on the internet.  She beamed with pride when her grandson was running for President and won the election and she even attended his 2009 inauguration.  However, even with all she witnessed in her at least 99 years of life, including her grandson inaugurated President of the United States, Mama Sarah remained humble.

“In 2008, I photographed Mama Sarah Obama.  I walked into her gate unannounced and she graciously accepted I photograph her as she worked in her compound.  A month later, her grandson Barack Obama was elected as the 44th U.S. President.  May she rest in peace,” Kenyan activist and author Boniface Mwangi tweeted.

President Obama also emphasized his grandmother’s ability to stay true to herself.

“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,” Obama said discussing his grandmother’s life.  “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.”

“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,” the former President added.

Sarah Obama, President Barack Obama’s step-grandmother, who died on March 29, sits in her home with paraphernalia from her step-grandson’s campaign. (AP Photo)

In addition to her major contributions to the Obama family, Mama Sarah was said to be a cherished citizen Kenya and advocate for the education of girls and orphans.

“The passing away of Mama Sarah is a big blow to our nation.  We’ve lost our strong, virtuous woman, a matriarch who held together the Obama family and was an icon of family values,” Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta said. 

President Kenyatta also celebrated Mama Sarah’s philanthropic efforts and push towards raising funds to pay for school fees for orphans.

“She was a loving and celebrated philanthropist who graciously shared the little she had with the less fortunate in her community,” President Kenyatta said according to a statement.  

The matriarch of the Obama family was being treated at a hospital in Kisumu, Kenya, and her daughter Marsat Onyango told the {Associated Press} that the family was “devastated.”

According to a spokesman for the family, Granny Obama was ill for a week before being taken to the hospital and she died from “normal diseases,” as opposed to COVID-19, for which she tested negative.

As is the Islamic tradition, Mama Sarah Obama will be buried Tuesday before midday.

President Obama said he would miss his Granny.

“We will miss her dearly, but celebrate with gratitude her long and remarkable life,” Obama said closing his statement.

Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor