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Mama Sarah in high spirits as Obama arrives in Kogelo

By John Oywa | Published Mon, July 16th 2018 at 09:27, Updated July 16th 2018 at 15:53 GMT +3
Mama Sarah Obama was all smiles. [File, Standard]

In summary

  • Mama Sarah's Milestones
  • She attended Mr Obama's inauguration as America's 44th President in 2009.
  • On November 19, 2014, Sarah Obama received the Pioneer Award from the United Nations for the work of an education foundation that she heads, as a part of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day.
  • On October 5,2015 Mama Sarah was honoured at the South African Traditional Music Achievement Awards for her work in Kenya to improve the lives of people, especially children.

Mama Sarah Obama, the matriarch of the Obama family in Kenya, is upbeat as she awaits to welcome her grandchild- former US President Barack Obama to her home today.

The widow who has risen from a village granny to a celebrity, spent most of the day yesterday watching television and receiving guests.

She was excited that Obama will break from his busy schedule in Kisumu and Kogelo to pay her a visit at home, which is barely 800m from the Sauti Kuu Vocational centre, the venue of the main function.

"She is very happy. Earlier reports that Barack would not find time to visit pass by really affected her. But he is now very excited. She has told us to prepare her best dress for the visit," said a relative who does not want to be quoted for fear of breaching protocol.

At 96, Mama Sarah remains the matriarch who has been keeping the expansive Obama family together since the former President fired the family into fame after winning the US Presidency in 2008.

In 2004, when Obama's rose to stardom while preparing tom contest the Illinois Senate seat, Mama Sarah was an ordinary village woman living in a simple hut and looking after her cattle.

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She was a humble grandmother eking out a living by selling vegetables at the dusty Kogelo Market in Siaya County.

Her home had neither a fence nor a gate, not even a watchman. There was no electricity and she walked a long distance in search of water. Villagers visiting her to buy house hold goods she sold in her semi-permanent house walked in and out at will.

But things suddenly changed after her grandson Barack Hussein Obama, won the Illinois Senate seat and started exhibiting signs of running for the top seat in the World most powerful country.

Local and international journalists, tourists and researchers swarmed Mama Sarah's little house, daily, requesting for interviews and photo sessions. As Obama's profile rose, so was Mama Sarah's. Her privacy shrunk and her security became a matter of concern.

"Sometimes she could spend the whole day, welcoming visitors and fielding questions from the media. She could hardly find time to attend to her gardens and livestock as before. This was part of the price to pay for becoming the grandmother to a celebrity," says Mama Sarah's son, Said Obama.

When Obama visited her in 2006, the entire Kogelo village became part of the United States of America, with mean looking marines taking vantage positions to guard the man whose father grew up in the sleepy village herding goats and walking barefoot to local schools.

Mama Sarah's life changed forever when Obama was eventually elected the 44th President of the United States of America, making history as the First Black American to head the Country.

The USA took keen interest on Mama Sarah and her immediate family members. The Kenyan government moved to secure the home, built a police post in the compound, had it fenced and enforced restricted access. Mama Sarah stopped selling vegetables and those visiting her home had to book appointments and be ready for vetting.

The once dusty road from Kogelo market to her home was quickly tarmacked. A borehole was sank and electricity connected to the home. A bungalow replaced the former aging traditional house. 

Mama Sarah, 94, has even been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree by the Great Lakes University of Kisumu (GLUK) for her efforts to help orphaned and vulnerable children through her Mama Sarah Obama Foundation.

The former President's grandmother has been globe-trotting ever since she became a celebrity. She has been to US, Canada, Germany, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, among many other countries. Among the world leaders she has personally met include her grandson Obama, former Libyan president the late Muammar Gaddafi, Presidents Salva Kiir (South Sudan), Jakaya Kikwete (Tanzania), Abdullah Hussein (Saudi Arabia, now late), Teodoro Nguema (Equatorial Guinea) and Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki (retired), among others.

Young Barack Obama and his grandmother Sarah Obama when he first visited Kenya in 1987. [File, Standard]

In 2015, Mama Sarah led a team of President Barack Obama's extended family into meeting him at the exclusive Villa Rosa Kempsinki Hotel in Nairobi when he visited the country.

Mama Sarah is now taking care of several widows and orphans through an NGO she helped found- Safeguard Widows and Orphans (SOWO).

The NGO has formed a Savings and Cooperative society which not only loans money to women but also trains them in making handicraft. The Sacco has 2000 members, most of them widows.

The SOWO also pays fees to more than 3,000 orphans and runs an Early Childhood center.

"Mama Sarah is our patron. She is very keen on the welfare of the women and orphans. Many of the orphans supported by SOWO have graduated from University," said Ms Naomi Oketch, Sowo's Executive Director.

Ms Oketch said the widows were involved in many income-generating activities and are making, detergents, baskets and ornamental pots.

Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta decorated Mama Sarah with the Order of the Burning Spear for her dedicated service to the poor. She travelled to Nairobi to receive the award.

 Ms Oketch said Mama Sarah has been holding marathon races in Kogelo to raise funds for SOWO.

"We are currently planning marathons on Climate Change called GO Green with Mama Sarah. We will do this in partnership with Kakemega County Government. We are also planning a Marathon towards Sickle Cell Anaemia," she said.

Mama Sarah has also been involved in the fight against jigger infestation in Siaya County.

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