M’Balia Camara (1929-1955)

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Guinean national political independence martyr, women’s rights activist, and national heroine of the Democratic Party of Guinea, M’Balia Camara, was born in 1929 in the village of Posséya, Guinea, near Gonga Khimbéli and Yenguissa. Despite humble beginnings, she refused to allow herself to be limited and restricted to domestic activities. Instead, she joined and campaigned with anti-colonialist activists, calling for France to grant independence to Guinea. Initially, she represented the local women’s committee of Tondon-Labayah, an anti-colonialist group.

During the 1950s, Camara joined the Guinean branch of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), the political party calling for the independence of Guinea. She led the local RDA women’s committee in Conakry, the capital city, where she called on Guinean women to abandon traditional habits and symbols reflecting colonialism and to replace them with the values of the people of an independent Guinea. M’Balia’s husband, Thierno Camara, was a politically conscious military veteran.

In 1955, Local Chief Almamy David Sylla, who opposed the actions of the RDA, especially their protesting against French rule, French-supported rigged elections, and the imposition of taxes on the local people, came to the village of Bembaya to collect taxes. When local people reminded him that he had already collected their taxes earlier, he ordered colonial troops to use force to collect the taxes again. When violence broke out, Sylla illegally entered the Camaras’ home, believing she was leading the local resistance. With a sharped saber in his hand, Sylla confronted M’Balia Camara, who was eight months pregnant and thrust the saber into her stomach. Friends rushed the profusely bleeding Camara immediately to a hospital in Conakry. Upon their arrival, the baby was stillborn on February 11, 1955. One week later, On February 18, 1955, M’Balia Camara also died from a loss of blood caused by Sylla’s saber. She was 26.

M’Balia Camara became a martyr in the Guinean independence struggle against the French. Three years after her death, in 1958, Guinea gained its independence from France, and by that point, Camara had become a national hero. February 9th was named Guinean Women’s Day in honor of M’Balia and her efforts. The holiday continues to this day in Guinea. In addition, the main market square in Conakry bears her name and a secondary state school, Lycee M’balia Camara.