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Fatoumata Camara: a pioneer female Police Officer

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History Corner
Fatoumata Camara: a pioneer female Police Officer

By: Hassoum Ceesay

 

As we write The Gambia Police Force (GPF) has several senior female officers including a Commissioner. Also, females are strongly represented in the ranks of the force. Yet, it is only about 1960 that the first female members of The Gambia Police Force were recruited. In this profile, we adumbrate the life and career of one of the pioneer female Police Officers of the GPF.

Fatoumata (nee Felicia) Camara was born in Banjul in 1938 and attended St Mary’s School and later St Joseph’s High School where she obtained her GCE ‘O’ levels in 1956. She returned to teach at St Mary’s in 1956, and enrolled into Yundum College in 1958.

The colonial police force, which was formed in the 1850s, was primarily an instrument of coercion and repression. It was an important pillar in the colonial edifice, which specialized in mounting elaborate guards of honour for the Governor and visiting royalty and in keeping the lid on any dissent. The force was well heeled in suppressing riots using teargas and truncheons and rubber bullets. It was a much –feared structure.

In the late 1950s, the Gambia Police Force recruited its first female officers after nearly a century of existence. One of the early female recruits was Fatoumata Camara, who rose through the ranks to become the first female police prosecutor.

Her success opened the doors of police prosecution to female officers, and also encouraged women to take up the police force as a career. Fatoumata reached the higher echelons of the police force but she had to stand up to male chauvinism and prejudice to achieve her ranks.

She cut short her teacher training course to join the police. After basic police training, she was posted to the Licensing Office from 1960 to 1961, later to the Pay and Quartermaster Office where she worked as a finance clerk. Fatoumata worked at the Police Statistics Office between 1964 and 1968. From 1968 to 1971 she was posted to the CID Office to take care of juvenile offenders. Camara headed the Police Gun Licensing Office from 1971 to 1975, when she was promoted to sergeant in charge of Banjul Police where she commanded 30 Officers.

In 1976, Mrs Camara became the police prosecutor for Banjul and despite her inexperience in legal matters she won a conviction on her first case, which involved assault between two men. One of her secrets was to befriend accused persons to allow them to confess to their charges. In court, Fatoumata stood her ground against the onslaught of experienced lawyers. She was always eloquent and confident, which won has the admiration of defendants and their lawyers.

However, as a woman she suffered harassment and discrimination in terms of promotion and training. She spent a decade in the rank of sergeant. Yet Fatoumata managed to build up a brilliant career until her retirement in 1995.

During her 35 years’ service, Fatoumata Camara won recognition as the first woman to command a platoon of women officers Guard of Honour. She died in 2012.

Notes
1. ‘First Gambia woman police prosecutor’; Gambia Outlook, 9/9/1977,p.6,NGP 3/7, the Gambia National Archives, carries a brief biodata on Ms Camara.
2. Oral interview with Fatoumata Camara, Sam, Jack Terrace, Banjul, 20 November 2004.

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