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.
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:
- 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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