Barack Obama’s step-grandmother and family matriarch dies in Kenyan hospital

The matriarch of former US president Barack Obama’s Kenyan family has died, relatives have confirmed.

Sarah Obama was Mr Obama’s step-grandmother and was being treated in hospital in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city, when she passed away. She was at least 99 years old.

She was the second wife of Mr Obama’s grandfather and helped to raise his father, Barack Obama Sr.

Mama Sarah, as she was fondly known, was a philanthropist who promoted education for girls and orphans.

In recognition of her work, she was honoured by the United Nations in 2014, receiving the inaugural Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Education Pioneer Award.

Her daughter, Marsat Onyango, said she died at 4am local time at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral hospital. She added: “We are devastated.”

Mr Obama referred to her as “granny” in his memoir, Dreams From My Father, and described meeting her during his 1988 trip to his father’s homeland.

He told of their initial awkwardness as they struggled to communicate and how it developed into a warm bond.

She travelled from her small village in northwestern Kenya to attend his first inauguration as president in 2009.

Mr Obama spoke about his step-grandmother again in his September 2014 speech to the UN General Assembly.

For decades, Sarah Obama helped orphans, raising some in her home.

In a 2014 interview, she said that even as an adult, letters would arrive but she couldn’t read them.

She said she didn’t want her children to be illiterate, so she saw that all her family’s children went to school.

She recalled taking the president’s father six miles (10km) to school on the back of her bicycle every day from the family’s home village of Kogelo to the bigger town of Ngiya to make sure he got the education that she never had.

“I love education,” she said, because children “learn they can be self-sufficient”, especially girls who too often had no opportunity to go to school.

“If a woman gets an education she will not only educate her family but educate the entire village,” she said.

Sarah Obama’s family is part of Kenya’s Luo ethnic group.

Kisumu governor Anyang Nyong’o offered his condolences to the people of Kogelo for losing a matriarch and said she will be remembered for her work to promote education to empower orphans.

“She was a philanthropist who mobilised funds to pay school fees for the orphans,” he said.

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