This article was originally published at ela-newsportal.com

“Academic Research and knowledge from and about Africa should be freely available to all who wish to access, use or reuse it while at the same time being protected from misuse and misappropriation.”

This is the first out of “Ten African Principles for Open Access in Scholarly Communication” put together by individuals who are working towards a modern Open Science infrastructure and envision the research landscape on the African continent in a few years to come.

Open Access is probably the most debated topic around Open Science, both in Africa and globally. The vision and mission of Open Science is all about good scientific practices in the digital age we now find ourselves in as academics. What is stifling good scientific practice globally today is for the most part the imbalance with for-profit corporate scholarly publishers that charge skyrocketing fees for article submission and processing and later for access to peer-reviewed articles after publication.

In the light of the worldwide Fridays for Future movement and the SDGs it is also clear that only open access to cutting edge research findings will allow us to advance in mitigating climate change, reducing conflict and poverty and restoring ecosystems around the world.

A seemingly persistent bias exists on the contribution from African researchers to global scientific production, which is due to the lack of visibility of the content that is produced on and about the continent. Even though there are a number of scientific publication platforms and journals, these are either not well known or not sufficiently visible. Open Science is a promising vehicle to reduce or even eliminate this bias in the long run.

Active inclusion of academic voices from the various parts of the world is essential to build a global infrastructure for Open Science practices that enables a balanced scientific discourse across world regions, language barriers and disciplines. The same holds true on a regional level inside Africa bridging the francophone/anglophone divide, enhancing science communication with the public, strategically informing policy makers of recent scientific findings and the list goes on. Key academic stakeholders including national educational ministries, grassroots initiatives for Open Access and Open Data are crucial in driving the process. The African Open Science Platform just concluded a 3-years pilot project stressing the urgency to invest in African academic infrastructure with boosting internet connectivity and power supply to enable open data management and data hosting on the continent (link to the report). The Nairobi-based organisation Code for Africa provides a platform for Open Data collection to allow all stakeholders of society to tap into the datasets and learn from the results.

Open Science is completely changing the way research and scientific content are perceived, produced and disseminated across Africa. This includes empowering citizen driven science which is leading to many ordinary and not necessarily well educated residents of nations across the continent who being enabled to use open data to agitate for improvement in the quality of life and wellness of their societies and communities at large in different areas, such as air quality and road traffic management. See for example the work of the Ghana-based Global Lab Network, Nigeria-based Vilsquare, Uganda-based Pollicy and the pan-African open science hardware network AfricaOSH. The collection of environmental data for animal species protection and ecosystem restoration is another focus of citizen science approaches on the continent.

Within the past 3 years, numerous services and platforms have emerged that provide more visibility and higher engagement for African scientists globally, such as pan-African preprint repositories like the francophone DICAMES and the multilingual AfricArxiv, Open Access journals specifically targeting African research such as AAS Open Research, various Open Access initiatives and platforms, to name a few. Research articles are nowadays findable online via BASE Search, Open Knowledge Maps and Google Scholar. Open Science also means more – and much easier – opportunities for African researchers to collaborate with other researchers on the continent and in other parts of the world. More and more university libraries across the continent are installing DSpace repositories for the research output of their work; find an overview of these by country at https://www.internationalafricaninstitute.org/repositories.

With AfricArxiv, our core service is the hosting of preprints and other formats of research output preferably by African scientists but also non-African scientists who do research on Africa-related topics. In addition to making research output produced in Africa more visible, there are a number of other objectives that we wish to achieve, such as promoting the use of local African languages in science, bridging between anglophone and francophone research output, popularizing the concept of Open Access publishing on the continent, as well as highlighting the relevance of indigenous and traditional knowledge in a research context while at the same time protecting the collective intellectual property of indigenous peoples.

We are counting more than 60 accepted submissions to date and recently launched our interactive map on which readers can see where on the continent a study was undertaken and which authors from which institutions were involved. To ground AfricArXiv onto financial sustainability we are looking into opportunities for sponsoring partners and would like to have the database hosted by an African research institution or university.

To conclude, we invite you to read and sign the 10 African Principles for Open Access in Scholarly Communication:  https://info.africarxiv.org/african-principles-for-open-access-in-scholarly-communication. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions please contact us at info@africarxiv.org.


Authors of this article are some of the team members at AfricArXiv:
Justin Sègbédji Ahinon, Joy Owango, Obasegun Ayodele, Luke Okelo, Ahmed Ogunlaya and Jo Havemann

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