Guest post: Overview of the African Open Access Landscape, with a Focus on Scholarly Publishing

Photo of Ina Smith, DOAJ Ambassador for Southern AfricaThis is a guest post by Ina Smith, our Ambassador for Southern Africa.

Ina managed the pilot  for the African Open Science Platform project from October 2016 until October 2019. She holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Pretoria (South Africa) in Computer-Integrated Education, a Higher Education Teaching Diploma, and two degrees (BBibl and BBibl Honors) in Library and Information Science. She is Planning Manager at the Academy of Science of South Africa, and has vast experience of Open Access in general, Open Science, scholarly research activities, repositories, and Open Access journal management and publishing. Ina is the DOAJ ambassador in the region of Southern Africa.


This article reports on selected findings from the pilot African Open Science Platform landscape study, conducted by the Academy of Science of South Africa, on request of the SA Department of Science and Technology, and funded by the National Research Foundation. Direction was provided by CODATA (International Science Council).

1. Introduction

The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) – during October 2016 until October 2019, conducted a landscape study (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019) of what is happening on the continent in terms of Open Science and progress made regarding Open Access. This formed part of the pilot African Open Science Platform, in preparation of building an actual platform addressing the collaborative needs experienced by scientists in addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Awareness regarding Open Access is evident through the

Main findings on the status of Open Access scholarly journals on the continent, as well as factors contributing to the current status, are shared below.

2. Low commitment towards science, policy, incentives and infrastructure by African governments

It is estimated that Africa produces only around 0.74% of global scientific knowledge. Low levels of political willingness among African countries to make funding available towards advancing science, is at the core of this low level of contribution. From the landscape study, only 35 out of 54 African Union member countries (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019) demonstrate some level of commitment to science through its investment in research and development (R&D), academies of science, ministries of science and technology, policies, recognition of research, and participation in the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI). Only two African countries (Kenya and South Africa) at this stage contribute 0.8% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to R&D (Research and Development), which is the closest to the AU’s (African Union’s) suggested 1%. Countries such as Lesotho and Madagascar ranked as 0%, while the R&D expenditure for 24 African countries is unknown (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019).

2.1 Policies lacking and not harmonised

National Open Access policies are positioned within a broader regulatory framework, together with policies for intellectual property rights (IPR), research ethics policies, policies for STI, funding policies, HE policies and ICT policies.

According to the UNECA 2018 Sustainable Development Report, there are low levels of organisation and funding of many science systems in Africa. Although there are efforts towards aligning IP, ICT and Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policies on the continent with one another and with international policies, African governments still have a long way to go. Apart from developing the relevant policies, policies need to be aligned towards regulatory convergence, the environment required to implement the policies needs to be conducive, and accountability needs to be built into all policies.

The African Observatory of Science and Technology Indicators (AOSTI) were established in 2011 by the African Union to help African countries to build capacity for STI policy activities and initiatives. The AOSTI report on the Assessment of Scientific Production in the African Union, 2005–2010 recommended “creating open and free access publication outlets for Africa, with improved review committees” (African Union African Observatory of Science Technology and Innovation, 2014) and highlighted the challenge of high article fee requirements for publishing in citation-indexed journals and the high subscription prices to commercially available databases.

Policy is a process, and depends on the government of the day. Furthermore, Open Access policies registered in ROARMAP are at institutional level only, and not at national level. Ethiopia is the only African country this far with an Open Access policy on national level, announced and released during October 2019, paving the way for other African countries to hopefully follow suit.  For Open Access policies to be adopted and integrated as part of national Science, Technology and Innovation policies, far more advocacy and awareness initiatives are required across the African continent.

2.2 Insufficient e-Infrastructure

Science globally has become fully dependent on stable ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) infrastructure, which includes connectivity/bandwidth, high performance computing facilities and data services. And so have scholarly journals. Open Access scholarly journals can forget to exist if a stable ICT infrastructure does not exist. Especially where Internet shutdowns (or Internet censorship) is common. From the landscape study, 20 African governments applied some form of Internet censorship 45 times since 2001, of which 36 times the shutdowns related to anti-government related protests.

Academic and research intensive institutions in Africa rely heavily on NRENs (National Research and Educational Networks), which are endorsed by their respective governments and benefit from tax waivers or exemptions, free operator licenses or even Universal Service Funds, e.g. in Uganda and Zambia.

The concern however, is that selected African governments (with the exception of a few countries such as South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia and others) have low awareness of how the Internet works, how much ICT (and the 4th Industrial Revolution) have affected research, and the added value an NREN – through being connected to fellow NRENs – can bring to higher education and research in addressing the respective needs, which is far more complex than simply providing connectivity (Foley, 2016).  A main threat to NRENs in selected African countries is commercial public ISPs influencing governments, sometimes creating the impression that NRENs offer nothing more than what commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer. Galagan and Looijen (2015) confirm that each of the NRENs and Regional RENs have their own political, financial and other challenges. The main challenge is the unaffordability of telecoms’ pricing in many markets across the continent. Private industry Internet service providers (ISPs) have monopolies in many African countries (especially in Central and West Africa), closing down access to cable landing stations, which keep Internet connectivity very expensive in these countries within a closed market and not allowing other competitors to enter the market. This makes collaboration and participation with other NRENs, collaboration and sharing among researchers, and the publishing of Open Access journals, almost impossible in those countries.

Of the 36 African countries with NRENs1, 17 NRENs are connected to the global Research and Education Network, while 19 are not yet connected (Academy of Science of South Africa, 2019).

In addition to Internet censorship and the threat commercial ISPs bring, power outages on the continent interrupting Internet service delivery is a further challenge, resulting in interrupting the flow of science. Africa has enormous infrastructure gaps, including broadband infrastructure, and access to broadband services, where they exist, is also very expensive (Economic Commission for Africa, 2017). Moreover, personal connectivity costs remain extremely high in most African countries (Alliance for Affordable Internet, 2017). Issues of connectivity are further complicated by ageing and unreliable power infrastructure and frequent power outages.

2.3 Skills shortage

In addition to a general lack of awareness of Open Access – especially at government level, there is also very low awareness around the availability of open source scholarly publishing platforms such as PKP Open Journal Systems (OJS) and other tools in support of the research and scholarly publishing process. Publishing high quality journals aligned with best practice criteria further needs upskilling, something for which there is a huge demand. Through ASSAf, DOAJ, EIFL, AJOL and efforts of many others, training has been conducted. More resources are however required to not only equip editors, but also reviewers, copy editors, proof-readers and authors with the necessary skills to deliver on high quality trusted Open Access scholarly journals and articles. Open Access online courses and virtual training are possible solutions to address the skills gap, but only if a stable infrastructure and connectivity can be guaranteed.

2.4 Incentivisation is non-existent

Publication-focused metrics are heavily used within African academia as a means of evaluation. This is often only one of very few – if not the only – criteria determining promotion. An unhealthy obsession with publishing in high impact factor journals often result in research conducted to address local problems, ending up in subscription-based journals unaffordable for the very audience it was intended for.

Funding to conduct research remains a challenge. African researchers mostly fund their own research, and there are few incentives for them to make their research and accompanying data sets openly accessible. Funding and peer recognition, along with an enabling ICT enabled research environment conducive for research, are regarded as possible major incentives.

3. Status of scholarly journals published in Africa

There is an increase in the North-South divide; publications not listed on international citation indexes are proven to suffer lower visibility, citation, and effect; and these research results make little or no contribution to the existing body of global knowledge. Furthermore, few African researchers form part of editorial boards of international journals. In some instances, African journals are published by publishers in Europe and North America, resulting in those not being regarded as African journals.

African scholarly journals are often not online available, and leadership on managing journals in a trusted way not available. Through an Ambassador initiative of the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), slow progress is being made. More and more, scholarly journals are making the transition to using PKP Open Journal Systems, an Open Source journal workflow solution, to publish journals online.  African Journals Online (AJOL) another initiative, has been working on assisting journals to make the transition from print to online journals. According to DOAJ, 19 African countries representing 196 of the 13 773 journals are currently listed on this index that provides access to high-quality, Open Access, peer-reviewed journals. Until recently, 200+ journals published by Hindawi appeared under Egypt, which would have brought the number of African journals listed in DOAJ to 400+. These journals are now being classified as UK publications due to Hindawi’s move to London.

A notable development towards an Open Science publishing approach is the AAS Open Research mega-journal. Using the F1000 publishing platform, AAS Open Research implements open peer review and requires that data underpinning the research findings should be open by default.

The Scientific Electronic Library Online (SciELO) SA hosted by the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) covers a selected collection of peer-reviewed South African scholarly journals, and forms an integral part of the SciELO Brazil project. Journals are considered for inclusion in SciELO SA when they have received a favourable evaluation after being peer-reviewed. This peer-review is coordinated by ASSAf, and occurs in cycles of 5 years. SciELO SA focuses on strengthening the scholarly journal evaluation and accreditation systems in South Africa.

Scienceafrique.org – an initiative by Florence Piron and project SOHA – addresses the need to have a platform to publish scholarly journals and share science in the francophone region. It currently hosts 5 French journals2. The main objective of this platform is to give African researchers (including Haiti) the opportunity to freely and openly share their research and text in their local language, to build quality African science, visible and accessible to all, from the perspective of cognitive justice and serving the common good.

Another important player in advancing equitable scientific partnership with developing Francophone countries in Africa and elsewhere is the French National Research Institute for Development (IRD). Being a French public research institution, “the IRD defends an original model of equitable scientific partnership with the countries of the South and an interdisciplinary and citizen science committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”. The planned IRD “Open science in the South: challenges and perspectives for a new dynamic” symposium (23 – 25 October 2019) “will offer an opportunity to discuss the challenges of open science in developing countries and to present national, international and local incentive policies as well as practical case studies to initiate trends towards open science. It will focus in particular on research in French-speaking countries in the Global South.”

Open Science and Open Access in Arabic countries such as Algeria, are driven by the DGRSDT (General Directorate of Scientific Research and Technological Development). The vast majority of the total of 359 Algerian scholarly journals are only available in print, with 21 available as Open Access and registered in the DOAJ. The DGRSDT strategy includes:

  • training editors in managing and publishing scholarly journals;
  • promote sharing and collaboration among Algerian editors, and
  • promote global collaboration in advancing Open Access.

The aim is for all Algerian journals to make the transition from print to online, and to adhere to the DOAJ criteria for possible inclusion. An Algerian journal portal by the name Webreview has been launched by the Research Centre on Scientific and Technical Information (CERIST) for the science community to publish journals – whether open or restricted access. On institutional level, and similar to South African universities publishing their own journals (e.g. SUNJournals at Stellenbosch University3), many Algerian universities prefer to host and publish their own journals. An example from Algeria is the Université de Béjaïa4 (Belhamel, 2016).

Only one (1) African country thus far is participating in Plan S5 (i.e. the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), Zambia6), while none subscribes to AmeliCA yet.

In response to the portentous need of access to scholarly content by the African research community, an additional SPARC Chapter, SPARC Africa7, has been established and was launched at the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) Academic and Research Libraries (ARL) Satellite meeting on the 14th August 2015. The Chapter’s primary concerns this far has been to capacitate Africans in academic and research sectors to champion free access to scientific knowledge as a means to alleviate Africa’s lack of access to scholarly content. It further concerns access to Northern output which has the risk of continuing a neo-colonial agenda (Mboa, 2019). The SPARC Africa Open Access Symposium 2019 (4 – 6 December 2019) will be “challenging the open access movement and its advocates with their social justice principles to usher in equity and equal opportunity and to open the doors for full participation of new African voices in the scholarly communication landscape.”

4. Conclusion

For Africa to address its many challenges through Open Access, policies need to be developed, research sharing should be incentivised, provision should be made for skills development, and proper infrastructure and affordable and stable connectivity should be readily available.

A future federated African Open Science Platform (AOSP) in which policies, skills, incentives and infrastructure needs are addressed will not only encourage more collaboration among researchers in addressing the SDGs, but it will also benefit the many stakeholders identified as part of the research process. But only if there is commitment from African governments.

References

  1. Prof Meoli Kashorda, personal email communication on 13 May 2019
  2. https://www.revues.scienceafrique.org/catalog/
  3. https://www.journals.ac.za/
  4. http://www.univ-bejaia.dz/revues
  5. https://www.coalition-s.org/
  6. https://www.coalition-s.org/coalition-s-welcomes-its-first-african-member-and-receives-strong-support-from-the-african-academy-of-sciences/
  7. http://aims.fao.org/activity/blog/sparc-africa-capacitating-africa-towards-access-open-scholarship

Bibliography

Academy of Science of South Africa. (2019). African Open Science Platform – Landscape
Study. Unpublished.

African Union African Observatory of Science Technology and Innovation. (2014). Assessment of Scientific Production in the African Union, 2005–2010. url: http://aosti.org/index.php/component/content/article/88-reports/133-the-state-of-scientific-production-in-the-african-union?Itemid=437

Alliance for Affordable Internet. (2017). Affordability Report. Washington DC. url: https://a4ai.org/

Belhamel, K. (2016). Open Access Journals Strategy in Algeria. url: https://blog.doaj.org/2016/10/06/open-access-journals-strategy-in-algeria/

Economic Commission for Africa. (2017). Towards Improved Access to Broadband in Africa. Addis Ababa. url: https://www.uneca.org/sites/default/files/PublicationFiles/towards_improved_access_to_broadband_inafrica.pdf

Foley, M. (2016). The Role and Status of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) in Africa. url:  http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/233231488314835003/pdf/113114-NRENSinAfrica-SABER-ICTno05.pdf

Galagan, D. and Looijen, M. (2015). National Research and Education Networks: Analysis of Management Issues. url: http://www.isoc.org/isoc/conferences/inet/99/proceedings/3h/3h_1.htm

Mboa Nkoudou, T. H. (2019). Epistemic alienation in African Scholarly communication: Open access as a Pharmakon. Old Traditions and New Technologies: The Pasts, Presents, and Futures of Open Scholarly Communication. Edited by Eve, M., Gray, J. Cambridge, MIT Press (in Press). url:  https://eve.gd/2019/06/07/old-traditions-and-new-technologies/