Political instability, Lingua Francas, and Engaging the Local Communities - exploring the challenges facing Africa's Scholarly Communications ecosystem

Thursday 03 October

by Sahar Abuelbashar (University of Sussex, UK), Awasom Afuh (Texas Tech University, USA), Justine Germo Nzweundji (Institute of Medical Research and Medicinal Plants Studies, Africa), and Ngozi Ukachi (University of Lagos, Nigeria)

The Scholarly Communications ecosystem encompasses the production, acquisition, storage and dissemination of information leading to the application of new knowledge to improve the lives of citizens through the provision of goods and services for the global economic system. Whilst technological advancement has sped the dissemination of scientific knowledge through instantly sharing results via social media platforms, thus increasing public scholarship, the digital divide has had far reaching impact for those in the global south.

Research however is dependent on funding from both government grants or subsidies, nonprofits and for profits companies doing research and/or for development (R&D). According to UNESCO’s 2018 science report, only 0.4% of GDP was devoted to Research and Development in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA), and with the Arab Spring bringing political changes to the North of Africa, Egypt has seen a radical change in its STI policy – ‘the Constitution adopted in 2014 mandates the state to allocate 1% of GDP to research and development (R&D) and stipulates that the ‘state guarantees the freedom of scientific research and encourages its institutions as a means towards achieving national sovereignty and building a knowledge economy that supports researchers and inventors.

Society generally benefits from scientific and technological innovations, through advanced knowledge in education, health, agriculture and infrastructural development as we all pay for it in some way, shape or form through taxes, donations to causes and non-profits we support. It is evident that whilst the playing field is not the same in every respect; great research is still being undertaken in Africa, which needs to be included in the global knowledge database. Additionally, due to mobility and educational exchanges, researchers and scholars from the South have proven their worth and made giant strides in the North, in the scholarly communications arena. Therefore if those working under conditions, that can be described as less than minimally optimal, were to be given access to the same journals; join the same discussion and research groups; have access to the same databases and grant opportunities; consult with specialist Librarians and knowledge brokers as their peers do in the North, it would certainly bring them into the global community of researchers and eventually improve the dissemination of their own results.

Our presentation will aim to explore this topic by addressing the following key challenges: -

  • The impact of political instability and economic sanctions on scientific research and productivity. How visible are African scholars in comparison to others in the global scholarly databases?
  • Lingua franca impact on knowledge dissemination. How does one assess societal impact, and local community engagement if you consider the vast diversity of languages spoken i.e. French, English, Arabic, Portuguese, and indigenous languages. According to Ethnologue, the linguistic database, there are 77 listed languages alone in just Sudan, 283 in Cameroon, and 525 in Nigeria!
  • What about knowledge organization within the continent, especially with the absence of an indexing and database culture in the region? Also, are there differences in scholarly communication ecosystem within the continent – does the North differ to the South, or the East to the West?

We hope that the results would provide a road map for funders, publishers and scholars in the south to collaborate and to bring about some equity and diversity in scholarship representation in the various global knowledge ecosystems.