An conversation with Dr. Reggie Raju (Director of Research and Learning Services) & Jill Claassen (Scholarly Communications & Research), both from the University of Cape Town Libraries, took place in March 2021 to discuss this post about a continental platform for open research in Africa. The recording of the event is available via our YouTube channel.
By Dr. Reggie Raju and Jill Claassen
There were two watershed events that contributed to shaping South Africa’s higher education landscape. During the height of the apartheid system, the 1976 Soweto Uprising brought to the fore the need for a relevant education. In the post-apartheid era, the 2015 to 2017 student protest was viewed as a landmark event advancing the demand for a decolonised and affordable education. It would be deemed ludicrous to draw parallels between these two events: the Soweto Uprising challenged the ‘colonised’ education system and the 2015-17 protest was underpinned by the call for a decolonised education and an end to an unintended or indirect exclusionary and marginalized tertiary education system.
The Achilles heel in the demands of the students during the 2015-17 protest was the dearth of local content to support the demand for a decolonized curriculum. This dearth is exacerbated by the unaffordability to purchase textbooks, which continues to negatively impact the higher education system. The quest for a decolonised and affordable tertiary education is not exclusive to South Africa. There have been numerous calls from across the continent for a decolonised and affordable tertiary education.
For Africa, the open access movement has been lauded as the saviour that will resolve their challenges in accessing scholarly literature –literature that is essential to accelerate Africa’s growth and development. Unfortunately, this movement, born out of philanthropic imperatives, has alienated the continent from itself. The global north’s influence on the open access movement has unintendedly marginalised African researchers and their research. For Africa, access to scholarly content is more than just the sharing of scholarly literature, it is essential for the acceleration of the continent’s growth and development.
The new continental platform aspires to weave into the African open access movement tenets that advance social justice. The quest for inclusivity and demarginalization demands the dismantling of knowledge colonialism through the denorthernisation of the publishing landscape. While the global north lauds transformative agreements, the new continental platform provides the opportunity to pursue a viable alternative via transformational processes which include, amongst others, improving channels of distribution of scholarship: opening channels for African researchers to share their scholarship where it has the greatest impact. African scholarship residing in platforms that are not accessible to Africans are, for all intents and purposes, meaningless and irrelevant. The new continental platform was launched by the University of Cape Town (UCT) in December 2019 at the UCT-SPARC Africa symposium.
The citadel of the new continental platform is the ‘library-as-publisher’ service. It is asserted that this service will empower the library to actively contribute to the denorthernization of the publishing landscape in order to make scholarship more inclusive; it will empower libraries to contribute to a decolonised education; it will empower libraries to openly share African scholarship within Africa and with the rest of the world. The ‘library-as-publisher’ service will empower the library to transition from stewards of scholarship to mediators for the dissemination of scholarship.
The development of this continental platform is built on the premise that it will bridge the dearth of competencies necessary to provide a library publishing service for the publication of journals and books. In addition, it is believed that if the information technology challenge is addressed, there would be a much greater chance of adoption of the ‘library-as-publisher’ service by academic libraries.
The UCT has already published 17 monographs on the platform and publishes six journals. The University of Namibia is also using the new platform. They have successfully published five journal titles thus far. Staff from the University of Botswana have been trained on the system as they have committed to adopting the continental platform. Bindura University of Science Education and the Catholic University of Zimbabwe are in the process of publishing their journals on the platform. UCT Libraries is engaging with University of Ghana and University of Nairobi about using the platform to publish their journals and books. At this point in time there is no structured advocacy plan, as it will be developed when the platform is migrated from UCT to a non-aligned or neutral host.
It is anticipated that the above-mentioned tenets will contribute to the transformation of the African publishing landscape with a growing sense of self-reliance. The platform has already demonstrated signs of opening channels for the dissemination of African scholarship.
If you have any questions for Reggie and Jill, please add them to the comments section below so they can be included in the conversation on Tuesday 2nd March at 10:00 ET / 15:00 GMT / 16:00 CET. Join the conversation then via this Zoom link. All welcome!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.