Contested borders: West African politicians travelling for political change in the 1950s

This paper examines the travels and state visits of African political leaders, who completed journeys throughout West Africa and/or between Africa and Europe in the 1950s. This was a period when territorial and political borders within West Africa and between Africa and Europe were highly contested. The travels and state visits of African political leaders and heads of state can serve as a prism for examining how the borders and boundaries of the French colonial Empire were challenged during this period and how new concepts of African nationalism and Pan-Africanism emerged. The paper considers the spatial dimension of the travel itineraries which politicians traveled and which represent strategies of creating new political relations. Secondly, I explore the performative aspects of the political travels and state visits. They are examined both as a form of symbolic and embodied politics, and in their contexts of different and sometimes contesting audiences. Furthermore, this paper comprises an analysis of the speeches and allocutions held at receptions and meetings and which reflect the discursive construction of “imagined” representational spaces and symbolic meanings. In addition, they provide insights into existent claims and conflicts which were often veiled by the highly staged performances, however, explicitly expressed in the speeches. Finally, the paper is concerned with the ambiguities within and between the performances themselves, the speeches and allocutions, and different mediated representations of the scenarios of traveling in text and image.