The Open Science Movement In Africa
The worldwide narrative about Open Science (OS) is generally monopolized by that of the Global North. However, the Global South and particularly Africa have been taking part in this movement ever since its emergence despite the challenges that have been slowing its progress, yet it is gaining momentum across the African countries. Before exploring its African context, it is important to first establish a general understanding of the term Open Science and its fundamental principles.
UNESCO defined Open Science as an umbrella term that encompasses copious practices aiming to make multilingual scientific knowledge openly available, accessible, and reusable for everyone under the CC-BY Licencing (This license enables the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted ''work'' ). Along with this, OS is built over four main pillars which are: open scientific knowledge, open scientific infrastructure, open engagement of societal actors, and open dialogue with other knowledge systems. Furthermore, UNESCO foregrounds OS as a new paradigm that incorporates practices for reproducibility, transparency, sharing, and collaboration in the scientific enterprise. It builds upon the essential principles of academic freedom, research integrity, and scientific excellence, resulting from increased access to scientific content, tools, and processes. OS encompasses a broad range of academic areas and scholarly practices, spanning from fundamental and practical sciences to the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities. (UNESCO,2021).
Straightforwardly, the Open Science Movement aims to democratize scientific records including data that is seen as an anchor to solving health, developmental, educational, and social global issues.
Coming to the African context, Open Science is believed to strengthen health systems, advance scientific research, and train the next generation of African scientists that depend heavily on access to scientific knowledge. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a resurgence in the need for outbreak surveillance (OS) in Africa due to its vital role in preparing for and responding to pandemics. The disparities in OS practices and their resulting consequences in Africa, when compared to developed nations, have become more apparent during the planning and execution of COVID-19 pandemic responses. (Havemann et al., 2020). Furthermore, the Open Science movement proved to be favorable in changing narratives about the African continent and shedding light on African knowledge.
Remarkable Open Science Initiatives in Africa:
Although operational open science enterprises are currently in their early stages of development, they hold promise for creating a collaborative multi-state system that could prioritize key African agendas and lead to cost efficiencies.
The African Open Science Platform (AOSP):
One of the most significant African open science initiatives is the African Open Science Platform (AOSP). It's a pan-African platform, hosted for Africa by South Africa. Its key missions are governance, stakeholder engagement, resource mobilization, application activities and mainly monitoring and evaluating framework. (UN, 2023) The idea came out in 2015 as an output part of the International Accord on Open Data in a Big Data World. “The AOPS initiative is still in its delivery phase” that’s what Tshiamo Motshegwa the director of AOSP and a global member of the Open Science Cloud executive round table declared At the UN's 3rd Open Science conference which was held in February 2023 at the UN headquarters in NY, he also vocalized that "AOSP is still taking its baby steps and I want you to join us in executing its strategy" (UN, 2023).
Another landmarking initiative in the continent is the LIBSENSE (Library Support for Embedded NREN Services and E-infrastructure). It was established in 2016 to create a community of practice that promotes open science and encourages the adoption of open science services and infrastructures in Africa. The project brings together the academic library communities and research and education networks (RENs) in Africa to advance open access and open science initiatives on the continent. One of its major activities was the Three agenda-setting workshops that were held in different African countries in late 2018 and early 2019 and they are as follows: The first workshop was held in Zanzibar, Tanzania - in November 2018, in conjunction with the Alliance for Research and Education Networking of Eastern and Southern Africa (UbuntuNet), and the second was conducted in Accra, Ghana - March 2019, in conjunction with the West and Central African Research and Education Network (WACREN) and lastly, the third workshop was held in Tunis, Tunisia - April 2019, in conjunction with the Arab States Research and Education Network (ASREN). These workshops are aimed at building capacity and providing training for librarians, researchers, and other stakeholders in the academic community. The workshops covered topics such as open-access publishing, data management, and research ethics. (LIBSENSE, 2021) As a consequence, LIBSENSE begin its work in these three different regions based on the findings from its workshops and surveys. The first significant finding was the absence of Open Access (OA) national policies and open science roadmaps. The second finding was the insufficient support for expertise in digital skills and funding for digital repositories in these regions. For example, according to Statista, Tunisia's gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD) accounted for only 0.61 percent of the country's GDP. (Statista, 2023) This proportion is too low to satisfy the scientific hunger of the country and nearly the same low proportion has been given in different African countries. Here comes the role of LIBSENSE in trying to push openness in Africa through its metadata guidelines for data providers, Metadata/data exchange model agreement, and its Policy templates in English and French. Valuable pay-off occurred as a result of the three agenda-setting workshops across various African countries where several both institutional and national initiatives have been taking place. For instance, in Benin, the University of Abomey Calavi (UAC) has created a Bibliography of Teachers and Researchers (BEC = BTR), which oblige teachers and researchers of UAC to deposit a copy of their publications in this open archive. This initiative even compels students to put online their dissertations and thesis on the UAC website before obtaining their diplomas. In Burkina Faso, The BEEP platform has been created (Electronic libraries in partnership). It is a hosting site for digital libraries and provides open access to several collections of scientific documents produced, for the most part, by institutions in developing countries. (IRD, 2020) Moreover, Ivory Coast as well has shown interest in the open science movement. An Open Access national repository has been established by its Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. It is a space for sharing knowledge and preserving the scientific heritage that aims to promote open access and implement open access policies at national and institutional levels. Many other African countries have been following the Open Science movement road by virtue of the LIBSENSE initiative, including Ethiopia, Malawi, Tunisia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Morroco, Ghana, and Botswana. On par, the latest Open Science symposiums organized by LIBSENSE took place in Tunisia and Botswana in November 2022 and resulted in recommendations for implementing national open science policies and road maps. (LIBSENSE, n.d.).
The H3ABioNet is an African initiative that emerged from the African Society of Human Genetics as part of the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) project. It's a Pan African Bioinformatics network comprising 28 Nodes distributed amongst 17 countries 16 of which are African: South Africa, Madagascar, Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Botswana, Niger, Tunisia, Mali, and Morocco. Its objective is to enhance the health of African countries by improving the research infrastructure, thereby enabling African scientists to conduct genomic research. The establishment of an African Bioinformatics Network was deemed necessary to achieve this goal. The H3ABioNet functions to support the consortium, oversee the management and analysis of data, and ensure that the data is properly interpreted and utilized for the benefit of Africa. The H3ABioNet is supporting the H3Africa by providing tools and workflow to help analyze the data. it also provides Bioinformatics and computer science free pieces of training for African scientists, Ph.D., and master's degree students are included too. It's building a reference data set and a platform from which people can do better science, and better genomic medecin and gain the right skills to do that. Furthermore, its mission is to take ownership of African data to African scientists for the African people. (H3ABioNet, n.d.).
AFLIA’s Wikidata project
The African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AFLIA) has been taking part in the Open Science movement and one of its latest projects is Promoting Open Knowledge Practices in African Libraries through The WikiData project. It seeks to achieve the major objective of increasing the visibility, openness, and connectedness of library collections in Africa. The project is funded by the Wikimedia Foundation and also aims to enhance the comprehension of open knowledge and linked data within the African Library sector. Nkem Osuigwe, Director, Human Capacity Development and Training of AfLIA during the inauguration session of the Wikidata course confirmed that 724 applicants from 36 African countries and 6 countries outside the continent applied for the course, while their target was 200 participants from 20 African countries. Osuigwe argued that an application for the extension of the project of African Wikidata project has been made, to assure that no one will be left behind and all participants will be included in the project. Through the AfLIA Wikidata project, African librarians and other information professionals in the library sector are being taught how to use Wikidata as a database and visualization tool to map knowledge and connect their collections by linking local metadata with a global metadata network. This will make information in libraries, museums, and archives in local African languages more open and accessible. (AFLIA, 2023).
Navigating challenges of Open Science in Africa: The Impact of Bibliometric Neocolonialism
Certainly, the contient’s plural and at times divergent tradtions and practicies slows the open science progress, and it poses a unique set of challenges that has been well recognized in academic literature. One of the major challenges is the closed culture of scientific research in African institutions, particularly universities. Many universities in Africa prioritize publishing in high-impact international journals, often to the detriment of local research and collaboration following the aphorism of ''Publish or perish'' that pressures to publish academic work in high-impact international journals, to succeed in an academic career (Mouton, 2011) Additionally, some universities restrict access to research materials and equipment, making it difficult for students to engage in meaningful research activities (Adewumi, Oyewusi & Fabunmi, 2016). Another challenge is the lack of infrastructure and funding for open science initiatives. This includes inadequate access to modern laboratory equipment, scientific journals, and data management tools. Another important challenge is the lack of policies and guidelines for open access and open science in many African countries. While some countries, such as Ethiopia, have developed national policies for open access, many others have not yet done so (Chakraborty & Das, 2018). This lack of policy support can discourage researchers from engaging in open science activities, maybe worse, it can hinder their activities and limit the dissemination of research results to wider audiences. Adding to these challenges, The most and foremost is the lack of collaboration, we see many open science initiatives which is a good indicator, yet if these initiatives collaborated, the progress would have gone further, As the African proverb tells us, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together''
In addition to the well-known challenges of funding, governance, and policy, could Africa's colonial past also be a factor contributing to the slow pace of progress?
Bibliometric neocolonialism refers to the use of bibliometric tools and indicators to evaluate scholarly research, which can harm research productivity and scholarly communication in underrepresented regions such as Africa. The use of bibliometric measures to evaluate research quality can create a bias toward certain types of research outputs, leading to a skewed understanding of the research landscape in Africa. This can lead to the marginalization of African scholars and institutions, and a lack of recognition for their contributions to the global research community. (Mzileni & Heleta, 2023). The book, "Who Counts? Ghanaian academic publishing and global science," highlights the challenges faced by African higher education institutions and academics in the neoliberalism global academic publishing space controlled mainly by organizations and scholars from the Global North. Its writers explore not only the scientific research culture in Ghana but also they have given an overview of the African continent, by that they explored one of the countries that feature strongly, which is South Africa, Africa’s largest producer of scholarly research. They argue that bibliometric coloniality is perpetuated in South Africa by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), emphasizing the role of South Africa which as a sub-imperial accessory to the imperial ambitions of the Global North and how the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) in South Africa promotes bibliometric coloniality by maintaining a list of approved academic journals that are primarily based in and dominated by scholars from the Global North, and devaluing long-established African scholarly journals. This list is used to determine research subsidies and career progression for academics and researchers in South Africa, leading to a situation where approximately 80% of South Africa's scholarly output is published in these approved journals. This reinforces academic coloniality and epistemic exclusion, as African scholarly journals are undervalued and excluded from the conversation. (Mills, Kingori, Branford, Chatio, Robinson & Tindana, 2022) (Mzileni & Heleta, 2023).
Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach, including policy interventions, funding initiatives, and institutional reforms. Moreover, tackling the Global North's bibliometric neocolonialism could be through encouraging and supporting diverse voices, promoting local knowledge production and open-access publishing, diversifying citation practices, building partnerships and collaborations, and addressing biases and inequalities in the academic system. More importantly, Africa must develop its academic publishing infrastructure to challenge and dismantle Eurocentric hegemony and bibliometric coloniality. This will help create a more equitable and inclusive academic environment where scholars from African underrepresented regions and institutions have an equal opportunity to participate and contribute to the global body of knowledge and that’s what we are seeing in the continued efforts of African scholars and publishers while trying to create and promote credible and impactful research, and this offers hope for a more equitable and inclusive future for the Open Science in Africa where the narrative for Africa is controlled by Africans. (Mills, 2022).
List of African Open Access Journals:
● Scientific African https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/scientific-african
● The pan-African and cross-disciplinary AfricArxiv https://osf.io/preprints/africarxiv/discover
● The francophone institutional archive DICAMES, http://dicames.scienceafrique.Org/
General Open Access Repositories:
- International African Institute provides lists of national, regional and pan-African directories and other Open Access content sources for the following list (Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Libya, Madagascar, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe) https://www.internationalafricaninstitute.org/repositories
- The African StoryBook Project is a repository of stories in local African languages. This open source repository of digital books written in local African languages allows the re-purposing, scaling, and sharing of content from the platform https://www.africanstorybook.org/
- Africa Information Highway (AIH) portal. It links all African countries governmental Data portals https://www.afdb.org/en/knowledge/statistics/africa-information-highway-aih
University open repositories:
- OpenUCT | University of Cape Town.
Theses / Dissertations, Open Educational Resources, Research Output, Other Publications Link: https://open.uct.ac.za/
- The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) is an open and distance learning (ODL) institution. It offers a wide range of courses and downloadable material for educational purposes https://nou.edu.ng/e-courseware/
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