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Date: 2024-05-19 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00015352
Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro


Original article:
Peter Burgess COMMENTARY
I am much the same age as Princess Elizabeth of Toro and went to Cambridge the same year that she did. I was at Sidney Sussex College, one of the 'mens' colleges, and Princess Elizabeth was at Girton, one of the 'ladies' colleges.

Though Sidney Sussex was one of the smaller colleges, at that time it had one of the best May Balls at the end of every academic year and I wanted to go. This was not going to be easy. Thge male/female ratio at Cambridge at that time was not in favor of the men, with 95% of the student body being male and around 5% female. Worse, that year Britain had just ended National Service which meant that the intake that I was part of were majority young men about 2 years older than me! It was almost certain that I would not have a partner for the end of year May Ball.

However, a fellow student at Sidney Sussex learned of my predicament, and came to my rescue. He was one of very few non-white students at Cambridge at that time ... a Prince Pierre from Uganda who just happened to be related to Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Toro who was a first year student at Girton, one of the ladies colleges and not yet invited to a May Ball. Given the issue of race ... maybe this might be a solution for both of us! I was super happy with the solution!

Given the racism that was the norm in most of society in the late 1950s early 1960s, I was probably an unusually lucky individual to have been able to 'dance the night way' with such an attractive and accomplished young lady. Compared to her, my accomplishments since that evening have been very pedestrian, but I have observed many times in the 60+ years since then that spending some time ... not very much, but some ... with people at the 'top' of black society when I was quite young gave me a far better perspective of what is possible and should be normal, than people who only have contact with the black society with prejudice and in a variety of negative scenarios.

In this regard I was very lucky!

Enjoy learning something about a remarkable person! Thank you Kwekudee for writing and posting this piece.
Peter Burgess

Researched and written by kwekudee

October 30, 2012 (Accessed July 2018 )

Princess Elizabeth Christobel Edith Bagaaya Akiiki of Toro is the Batebe or princess of the Kingdom of Toro. She is a Ugandan lawyer, politician, diplomat, model and actress. She was the first female East African to be admitted to the English Bar. She is a paternal aunt of the current King of Toro, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV. She briefly (February 1974 - November 1974) served as Minister of Foreign Affairs under Idi Amin.

Princess Elizabeth of Toro

The first Africans began to break into fashion in the USA in the late 1960s, on the back of the gains made by the civil rights movement, which had simultaneously ushered in the first famous African American supermodels, Donyale Luna and Naomi Sims. While the African American beauties were essentially working class girls made good, by contrast the first Africans were the well-to-do daughters of kings and diplomats, who were educated and well travelled. Yahne Sangare was a Liberian diplomat’s daughter, who combined modelling with a post as a news correspondent for the United Nations. She had studied at the Sorbonne in France, and attended finishing school in Switzerland.

Young princess Elizabeth Bagaya

Princess Elizabeth Christobel Edith Bagaaya is a living fairy tale princess. She was was born in 1936 to His Royal Highness Lieutenant Sir George David Matthew Kamurasi Rukidi III, the eleventh (11th) Omukama of Toro kingdom in Uganda, who reigned between 1928 and 1965. Her mother was Lady Kezia Byanjeru Abwooli, a daughter of Nikodemo Kakoro (a senior chief of the king). Her title from birth was Omubiitokati or Princess. Elizabeth of Toro was born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Born into the Toro Royal family at the height of its glory, she was raised in the typical, privileged fashion and style that we associate with fairy tale princesses.

Young. Princess Elizabeth Bagaaya of Toro with her mother Lady Kezia Rukidi Abwooli

Within and outside the kingdom, Princess Elizabeth's mesmerizing beauty was equaled only by her warmth of heart, and counterbalanced by her academic prowess. She excelled in her studies, which she started in Gayaza High School, a prestigious girls' boarding school in Buganda, continued at Sherborne School for Girls, a boarding school in England, where she was the only black student. ''A Princess of Toro is groomed, trained from childhood to be well educated, cultured and prepared for her ancestral regal role as the official sister (Batebe) of the future King”. The princess of Toro,'

Elizabeth of Toro in her youth

“So I stoically denied myself any sexual activity or emotional involvement with any man, leaving Cambridge a virgin...” ~Princess Elizabeth of Toro.

Princess Elizabeth of Toro in Vogue, 1967.

She wrote in her autobiography that 'I felt that I was on trial and that my failure to excel would reflect badly on the entire black race.'

After one year (1959), she was accepted to the prestigious Cambridge University. She earned her place in history as being the third African woman to graduate from Cambridge in 1962 with a law degree. Amongst her tutors were E.M. Forster and F.R. Leavis, and her classmates included Germaine Greer and David Frost.

When not studying hard, Ms Bagaaya, not unlike the typical undergraduate, was partying hard because, she says, she was “in great demand”. Amongst the many smitten by our princess was Prince William of Gloucester, nephew of King George VI, who roamed about in a private jet. Like most royals, Ms Bagaaya serves up some cockiness. Before the prince, she dated a “tall, handsome, wealthy, sophisticated, and amusing Scot” who “entertained lavishly the rich and the beautiful. I was not rich.”

Princess Elizabeth of Toro

Hallelujah to that. But even as Ms Bagaaya went from party to party adorned in the “model gowns of the great houses of Paris”, she was conflicted about going all the way. She chose not to in order to protect her image and what it represented: the best of her not-permissive culture in which a public role awaited. “So I stoically denied myself any sexual activity or emotional involvement with any man, leaving Cambridge a virgin...” she writes.

Three years later, in 1965, Elizabeth Bagaaya became a Barrister-at-Law, becoming the first woman from East Africa to be admitted to the English Bar.

George Rukidi, the Omukama of the Toro Kingdom of Uganda, photographed with his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, after he had been created a Knights Bachelor by H.M. Queen Eliizabeth II at the Investiture

A pupilage followed in the chambers of Sir Dingle Foot – the UK solicitor-general and the man who would successfully represent Abu Mayanja, another Cambridge-trained lawyer, in Kampala in the famous sedition case of 1969. To celebrate her achievement, the princess hosted a gala party in London on December 20, 1965 “dressed in a pink silk Guy Larouche gown that contrasted with my dark skin and eyes...” In the morning, news came of her father’s death.

Fashion Model Princess Elizabeth of Toro February 1974.

Following the death of her father,King George Rukidi III and the accession to the Toro throne by her brother, Patrick David Matthew Koboyo Olimi III, the twelfth (12th) Omukama of Toro, who reigned from 1965 until 1995 King George Rukidi III, princess Elizabeth assumed her traditional role as Batebe (Princess Royal), which traditionally, made her the most powerful woman in Toro, and the most trusted adviser to her brother, King Patrick Olimi VII. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end of the glory days, a signal for tough times ahead.

Elizabeth of Toro

The mid sixties were characterized by political upheaval in Uganda, and one of the victims were the kingdoms. King Fredrick Mutesa II of Buganda, another of Uganda's traditional kingdoms, was now the President, with his Prime Minister, Milton Obote. Barely one year after the coronation of the Omukama Olimi III, Obote attacked the Buganda Palace, sending Sir Edward Muteesa II in exile, and declared himself president. Soon he 'abolished' all Ugandan traditional kingdoms including Toro. Elizabeth was afraid for her brother's life, but he escaped to London.

Elizabeth poses for fashion editorial

Elizabeth later completed an internship at a law firm, and became Uganda's first female lawyer. Elizabeth was a virtual prisoner in her own country, until in 1967 she was introduced to modelling by her friend Princess Margaret, who invited her to appear as a guest model at a Commonwealth runway show in London.

Elizabeth Princess of Toro, Charly Stember by Penn

“I will not do a nude. ... A princess is a princess.' ~ Princess Toro of Uganda
She was a big hit, and decided to ditch law for modelling. Her connections proved vital once more, as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whom she’d met at a party, introduced her to the New York fashion scene, where her royal status catapulted her into the mainstream fashion titles. Her accidental hairstyle became the rage in black America as “the Elizabeth of Toro hairstyle.' The June 1969 edition of Vogue featured her in a four-page spread, and in November of the same year she made history in becoming the first black model to be photographed for the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

First black model to be on the cover of Harper's Bazaar

Alas, this historic first cover was marred by the fact that Nyabongo had her face obscured by the magazine title’s logo. Nevertheless, she was inundated with offers of work, shooting with major fashion photographers Bill King and Irving Penn. She was even offered a large sum to pose nude, but she considered this a step too far for a woman of her position.


Elizabeth of Toro

“I embarked on a new career as an actress where I was asked by an American firm to play a role in a film titled “Bullfrog in the Sun”, which was based on Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” and “No Longer at Ease.” (a film based on igboland , a region of eastern Nigeria, meant to expose the impact of Western civilization on Africa)

Elizabeth of Toro

She also starred in several motion pictures, including 'Sheena' and Chinua Achebe's 'Things Fall Apart and No Longer at Ease' in which she acted the leading female role. 'I was also featured in the film “Cotton Comes to Harlem.” and “Sheena”.While recently in Nigeria, I watched some Nollywood films and I was quite impressed with the story lines and good acting.'

Elizabeth of Toro as Shaman in Sheena movie

In the end, Nyabongo had bigger ambitions than modelling, and so her career was short. She returned to Uganda in 1971, taking up a career in politics.

Elizabeth of Toro as Shaman in Sheena movie

Following the military coup of 1971, Princess Elizabeth was extended a special invitation to return and serve as Uganda's roving ambassador, in the government of Idi Amin. Later, she was appointed Uganda's ambassador to the United Nations. Her stint at the U.N. was short lived as she fell out of Amin's grace. What followed is a heart rending, sad story of humiliation and real danger to the princess and those close to her. She barely escaped with her life and went into exile in neighboring Kenya.

Elizabeth of Toro,1974, Manhattan, New York, New York, USA --- United Nations: Former New York model Princess Elizabeth Bagaya, Foreign Minister of Uganda.

Princess Elizabeth returned to Uganda following the overthrow of Idi Amin's regime. The return of Milton Obote to Uganda, and his eventual assumption of power as president started yet another reign of terror in the newly liberated nation. The political and security situation proved too hostile for Princess Elizabeth and her lover, Prince Wilberforce Nyabongo, son of Prince Leo Sharp Ochaki, escaped to London in 1980, and married secretly in 1981. Our princess was happy. “I brushed his hair daily, washed his feet with warm water, and massaged his body,” she writes. When he said he would give anything to fly, the princess summoned her vast network of highly connected friends and had him learning to fly in no time. When Ms Bagaaya was being considered for a role in the film Sheena and Wilbur said he wanted the pilot’s bit, she made sure. And together they would rally support for the NRM in Africa and Europe.

Elizabeth at the hotel Plaza in NY

In 1986 Elizabeth was appointed ambassador to the United States, a job she held until 1988. Later that year Nyabongo, an aviation engineer/co-pilot, was killed in a plane crash in Casablanca at age 32 years. Following the death of her husband, Elizabeth opted to leave public service and get involved in charity work

Elizabeth Toro,1974 --- Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger chats with attractive Elizabeth Bagaaya, Foreign Minister of Uganda, during a luncheon hosted by Kissinger at the U.S.

The restoration of cultural leaders by President Museveni's government in 1993 beckoned Princess Bagaya to return and serve her people as Princess Royale to her brother, King Patrick Kaboyo Olimi VII. She was one of the key players in restarting the kingdom as most of the elders who knew all the rituals and protocol were dead or scattered all over the world. Upon the untimely death of King Olimi VII, she was named as one of the guardians to her nephew, the three-and-one half years old infant king, His Royal Highness Omukama Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV.

She is, today, one of the key players in the kingdom reconstruction activities of The Batebe of Toro Foundation, to which she devotes most of her time. Following a period of service as Uganda's Ambassador to Germany and the Vatican, Princess Elizabeth accepted an appointment as Uganda's High Commissioner to Nigeria, based in Abuja, that country's capital.

Elizabeth of Toro

Portrait of Elizabeth of Toro in her full regalia

The story of Princess Elizabeth of Toro relates the highs and lows in the life of a living legend, a fairy tale princess. You may read it for yourself in her autobiography 'Elizabeth of Toro: The Odyssey of an African Princess', published by Simon and Shuster.


The text being discussed is available at
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