The Open Access (OA) movement in Africa is slowly gaining pace. By 2015, over 500 OA journals published in North and sub-Saharan Africa are indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and in African Journals Online (AJOL). African Journals Online (AJOL) is an online service to provide access to African-published research, and to increase worldwide knowledge of indigenous scholarship. Bioline International is another not-for-profit scholarly publishing cooperative committed to providing OA to quality research journals published in developing countries. In addition, thousands of researchers in the region also publish in international OA journals such as BioMed Central and Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals.
Furthermore, as of 2015, there are approximately 125 OA digital repositories in the region which are registered in the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR) and 18 OA policies from the region which are registered in the Registry of Open Access Repository Policies and Mandates (ROARMAP). This includes Kenya (five OA policies) and Zimbabwe (2 OA policies) from Eastern Africa; Algeria (two OA policies) from Northern Africa; South Africa (seven OA policies) from the Southern African region and Ghana (one OA Policy) and Nigeria (one OA Policy) from Western Africa. University of Pretoria (South Africa) became the first African University that adopted an OA mandate. International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) (Kenya/Ethiopia) has adopted a proposal to use an open licence for its published outputs.
Stellenbosch University provides support (on-site trainings and sharing useful materials online) to new OA repository managers in the region. The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) in partnership with UNESCO Cluster Office in Southern Africa are training OA journal publishers.
OA is on the agenda of most active library consortia in the region and they receive support from international organizations like EIFL and INASP. Another organization, the Irish African Partnership for Research Capacity Building (IAP), brings together universities in Ireland, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda in a high-level partnership to develop a coordinated approach to research capacity building in order to make an effective contribution to the reduction of poverty through its OA repository.
Annual events such as the celebration of International Open Access Week in many African research institutions has also raised much awareness among scholarly communities of the region about the benefits of Open Access.
In addition, SARUA, representing 63 universities in sub-Saharan Africa, released a research report on Opening Access to Knowledge in Southern Africa, which recommended OA as a potential strategy for the region. It is also very encouraging to see strategic statements like the following which illustrates the importance of OA in the region and the role it can play. “One of the key pillars of the University of Botswana's new strategic plan “Strategy for excellence” is “Research Intensification”. OA will help the University of Botswana, Government, and research institutions to achieve this pillar by ensuring online accessibility to public funded research output that can be freely shared by everyone, enhance research quality, and improve visibility of the institution and the nation globally.” - Professor Frank Youngman Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Botswana.
Despite some hurdles, all major stakeholders – researchers, research managers and policy makers, journal editors and publishers, librarians, practitioners, students and general public- have started to understand the benefits of OA and have started to implement OA projects in the region. With the majority of research in Africa now being of a collaborative nature, there is an increasing number of OA initiatives in the region to recognize and establish local and regional OA journals, driven by the concern for collaborative African research to be consumed by "Northern Hemisphere" high impact journals.
Major Projects and Initiatives:
On 29-30 January, 2015, a consultative forum on Open Access for Africa was jointly organized by UNESCO and the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC), Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, Kenya National Academy of Sciences, African Academy of Sciences, and Kenyan Ministry of Education, Sciences and Technology. The forum took place in Nairobi, Kenya and brought together around 45 high-level policy makers and experts representing 20 countries of Africa to provide expert intervention for research and development in Africa. UNESCO indicated their preparation to play a consultative role and work with African countries interested in working towards a national Open Access policy. UNESCO also made a call for training centres to build capacity and expertise on Open Access philosophies and systems.
The Scholarly Communication in Africa (SCA) programme is a three-year, International Development Research Centre (IDRC)-funded initiative aimed at increasing African universities’ contribution to regional and global knowledge production. The programme ran from March 2010 to August 2013 and was jointly hosted by the Centre for Educational Technology and the Research Office at the University of Cape Town. In close collaboration with the Southern African Regional Universities' Association (SARUA), SCAP engaged in four study sites which were cross-disciplinary and cross-faculty in nature:
- The Department of Library and Information Studies (DLIS) at the University of Botswana;
- The Southern African Labour Development Research Unit, a research unit in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town;
- The Faculty of Science (FoS) at the University of Mauritius; and
- The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia.
It is hoped that the evidence that was generated from the experiments will contribute to the development of empirically based research and stratégies in the area of scholarly communication within the African context.
Open Science Movement in Africa:
The ‘4th CODESRIA Conference on Electronic Publishing: Open Access Movement and the Future of Africa's Knowledge Economy’ was organized by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), from March 30th to April 1st 2016 in Dakar, Senegal. The conference created a platform to discuss opportunities and challenges to the Open Science movement in the region. Proactive actions were discussed and suggested.
The main outcome of the conference was a Dakar Declaration on Open Science in Africa. Signatories of the declaration agree to promote and support Open Science across Africa. This is being carried out by organizing events-conferences, workshops etc. (eg. in Namibia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique) for students and junior/senior researchers on topics related to the theme of Open Science and Open Data in relation to the economic importance of this movement for the African region. For example, to improve the sharing of agricultural research information and data.
In addition to the standard defined OA materials such as course materials, textbooks, multimedia applications etc., providing developing countries with other Open Educational Resources (OERs) such as high-tech (virtual) laboratories under an open license and other technological capabilities can enhance a country’s potential to contribute to global scientific research output. This can foster scientific innovation.
There are a number of recent and notable online scientific laboratory initiatives in the region that will encourage the uptake of open science as an academic practice in the coming years using virtual platforms:
African Virtual University Project (AVU)- It is a leading eLearning Network in Africa and is a Pan African Intergovernmental Organization. It has been established with a mandate to significantly increase access to quality higher education and training through the innovative use of information communication technologies (ICTs).
Eighteen (18) African Governments are part of this initiative- Kenya, Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, South Sudan, Sudan, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, and Nigeria.
The AVU offers courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Renewable Energy, Food Security and ICT, among other subjects.
Africanfossils.org- This virtual lab is a unique tool for scholars and enthusiasts to explore and interact with fossil collections online for free. African Fossils seeks to increase public knowledge about prehistory by harnessing modern technology. Through digitizing otherwise inaccessible discoveries, African Fossils is dedicated to creating a growing repository of 3D models of significant fossils and artifacts, thus making them freely accessible to all. By allowing members to share their 3D printed creations, It aims to aid teachers, students and enthusiasts to exchange ideas. The digital models on this site have been made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike License.
Challenges for Open Access:
Although there have been great strides in Open Access in the region, more awareness raising, advocacy work as well as capacity building are still needed to:
- Improve internet penetration in the region: In 2015, internet penetration rate in Africa stands at 27.5%, which is also the lowest in the world.
- Introduce OA policies and mandates in the region;
- Convert subscription-based journals into OA journals and launch new OA journals;
- Set up OA repositories and make them sustainable and encourage researchers and students to self-archive.
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