Princess Elizabeth Nyabongo Rukidi Christobel Edith Bagaya was born in 1936 to Rukidi III of Toro, the eleventh Omukama (regent) of Toro, one of the five kingdoms in Uganda. Her mother was Queen Kezia (1906–1998). She had a very distinguished career, which included stints as a lawyer, politician, model and actress.
She received her primary education at a girl’s school named after her grandfather King Kasagama Kyebambe IV, from whence she proceeded to Gayaza High School, a girls’ boarding school in Buganda. She later attended Sherbonne School for Girls, a girls’ private school in the English county of Dorset. Later in her autobiography, she reminisced about her experience as the only black student there, writing in Elizabeth of Toro: The Odyssey of an African Princess: “I felt that I was on trial and that my failure to excel would reflect badly on the entire black race”.
After a year at Sherbonne, she proceeded to Girton College, Cambridge, where she became the third African woman in the institution’s history. In 1962, she graduated with a degree in law. Three years later, she qualified as the barrister, in the process becoming the first East African woman to be admitted to the English Bar.
Arriving at Cambridge in the mid-twentieth century, when African students in the institution’s history were still few in number, she was nonetheless following closely in the footsteps of other Black Cantabs such as Nigeria’s Olu Abisogom and Sierra Leone’s Lulu Coker.
During her second year at Cambridge—when she was studying law, history and political science—she held a party for Jomo Kenyatta. This at the very same time that the British, then still the colonial power in her home country, had disapproved strongly of his involvement in the Kenyan Mau Mau independence revolt, enough to declare him a persona non grata.
She organised another notable party, this time on 20 December 1965 to celebrating her being apprenticed to the office of Sir Dingle Foot, Britain’s Solicitor-General. Her joy was cut short, receiving as she did the news on the next day of her father’s death. She returned to Uganda; there, she repeated her feat of becoming the first African woman to be admitted to the English bar by becoming Uganda’s first female lawyer, after completing a six-month internship at Kazoora and Co., a Kampala-based law firm.
When President Obote abolished the Ugandan kingdoms in 1967, the princess entered her first leg of an exile she would experience twice more. In the same year, she received an invitation from Queen Elizabeth’s sister Princess Margaret and her husband Lord Snowdon to be a guest model at the Commonwealth fashion show held at London’s Marlborough House. There, she caught the attention of the fashion world and joined Peter Lumley’s modelling agency, the best in London at the time. Two years later, in June 1969, she became the first black model to have a four-page spread in Vogue magazine and to grace the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in November 1969.
When Idi Amin took over power from Obote, she returned home and was appointed Uganda’s Roving Ambassador in July 1971. In 1974, she became the Minister of Foreign Affairs—the only female to date.
Although she would live in exile once again—when Obote returned to the helm—she did not allow this to deter her. In 1986, the Princess was appointed Uganda’s ambassador to the United States.
Princess Elizabeth’s life, marked by many ‘firsts’, was characterised by her active approach to life, rather than that of idle reliance on her inherited privilege.
Olugbolahan Abisogun-Alo was born in 1936 to Peter Akintunde Abisogun Wright, himself a grandson of Chief Akinlaja Abisogun of Isale Eko. At the time of her birth, her father was one of the leading social figures and personalities in Lagos in the 1930s, a legacy of public service which she herself would continue, going on to become one of the leading figures in the development of secondary school education in Nigeria.
She was educated at the Princess School in Lagos, followed by the elite CMS Girls’ Seminary in the same city. In 1949, she entered the Queen’s College, Lagos. The school was a product of its time; set up by the colonial government in Nigeria, it soon established a reputation as the leading girls’ secondary school in Nigeria. Practically all of the teaching staff were British expatriates with an Oxbridge background. At Queen’s, she won the Lady Bourdillon scholarship for gifted students. In 1955, her final year at the college, she was appointed as its Head Girl. She also exhibited considerable sporting prowess, acquiring a reputation as the best athlete ever produced by the school, whose school record in the high jump was unbroken for many years.
Olugbolahan was clearly born into a family with an Oxbridge pedigree. Her own mother, Ethel Adeleye (neé Shyngle) was the daughter of Margaret Cole and her husband, the distinguished lawyer, the barrister Egerton Shyngle, whose older brother (therefore Olugbolahan’s great uncle) Charles Egerton Shynge had read law at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. Another of her great uncles had also read law, at Jesus College, Oxford.
From Queen’s—which she left after a stellar academic career—she proceeded to the King’s College, Lagos in 1956, where after her Higher School Certificate (HSC, the equivalent of modern GCSEs), she studied A-Levels in English, history and Latin.
In 1958, she was admitted to Girton College, Cambridge to read history. Her contemporaries at Cambridge included Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro (Uganda), with whom she developed a good friendship, which they maintained even after they both left Cambridge. Other of her fellow Black Cantabs were Hope Harriman and his younger brother, Tunde. At the same time, Alaba Akinsete, Olumuyiwa Awe and Sam Olaitan were research students at the University.
Later, in her memoirs, Abisogun-Alo recalled her days at Cambridge as those of pleasure and enjoyment. A founding member of the Oxford and Cambridge Universities Club of Nigeria, she was one of its active members, whose annual May Balls she helped to plan and regularly attended in person until very recently, when frailty made this impossible.
She graduated from Cambridge in 1961, after which she returned home. There she met her future husband Olajide Alo (later Ambassador Alo), who was then a young Foreign Service Officer serving in the High Commission in London. They married on December 30, 1961. Married to a senior diplomat and having studied history at Cambridge, Abisogun-Alo wanted to join the diplomatic service. But this was not possible—Abisogun-Alo soon discovered the discomfort of the life of the wives of Foreign Service Officers, who could not pursue their own careers, however impressive their own credentials. Instead, she followed her husband to the successive cities of his postings, including New York, Cotonou (Benin) and Geneva. Eventually, Olugbolahan and Jide, her husband, decided that it would be best for her to pursue her career at home and be with their children, by which time they had three (their first, a son Akinola, born in London in 1962; the second, their daughter Olatunbosun, born in Cotonou in 1964 and Segun, their son born in 1971).
Upon her return to Nigeria, Olugbolahan pursued a distinguished career in the Federal Ministry of Education. She served as the Headmistress in several federal government colleges and was the founding headmistress at the Federal Government College for Girls in Abuja for several years. Later, she was appointed as the Pro-Chancellor of both the Universities of Bauchi and Abuja and became a member of the Governing Council of Bells University and a Trustee of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Her lengthy and notable contribution to the development of secondary education in Nigeria was acknowledged in 2003 with the award of an Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR). Besides this noteworthy accolade, she received many other national and international honours, including an honorary degree in education from the Lagos State University.
Her memoir, This City Girl, is much more than just an autobiography and serves also as an excellent social history of Lagos. It was first published in 2011.