The Politics of Scholarly Publishing in Africa: A critical Reflection

The ideas in this article were first presented in the Africa Symposium: Listening and learning from Africa | 16.06.22 | At the University of the Arts London

Africa’s modernity issue is still centred on knowledge production, and this has remained a significant puzzle in unlocking post-independence growth, international development, economic development, and innovation on the continent. The myriad of structural reform crises, as well as the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis and the Covid19 pandemic, demonstrate how critical it is to invest in building and strengthening Africa’s knowledge ecosystem to better prepare it for a rapidly digitising world without the traditional physical contact and conviviality for which the continent is known.

Scholarly Publishing in Africa

HUMA, in collaboration with LASPAD at Gaston Berger University and with funding from the Open Society Foundation, embarked on a continental research project aimed at producing new knowledge on African Scholarly Publishing, independent publishers, Scholarly platforms, and dissemination outfits, and their contribution to positioning African knowledge production as a critical component for sustainable development and change.

From the beginning of 2021 to June 2022, the research sought to generate new empirically based insights on scholarly publishing and dissemination in the African continent by developing data through interviews, seminars, podcasts and reading workshops. As one of the four Postdocs in the project, I realised that we needed to map out various challenges.

But what challenges do scholars and researchers face in scholarly publishing in Africa? Several challenges have existed in the postcolonial African states, which have continued to impact knowledge production in the continent. Issues such as funding of research and development in universities in Africa remain a critical challenge which hinders access to globally produced knowledge, inability to attend conferences and other international forums, inefficient and lack of internet connections, poor mentorship for postgraduate students, language barriers, etc. are just some examples of the common problems (although this doesn’t mean they are lesser problems) that have been facing most African institutions, scholars and researchers in their attempt to produce knowledge.

Our research has identified emerging challenges in the field of knowledge production, including the ongoing impacts of colonialism and academic colonialism. In particular, we have observed how African modes of producing knowledge are often marginalized by scholars from the global North, even when they are working in African institutions. This can lead to a pressure on black intellectuals to master western traditions and can create difficulties in academic writing. Additionally, we have seen instances where black intellectuals working with western traditions have been forcibly reminded of the methods, history, language, and practices from which those areas of scholarship emerged. These challenges can have significant impacts on the ability to attain senior graduate qualifications.

Our research has also identified challenges related to writing styles and the perceived value of knowledge produced by scholars in the global south. In particular, we have observed that African scholars and researchers may feel pressure to adapt their writing style to fit the “acceptable” style of the global north, which is often written in universal terms as if the findings are always of universal relevance. In contrast, scholars from the global south may feel the need to write in local terms, as if unsure of their ability to contribute to more significant debates. This inferiority mentality can be traced back to the effects of colonialism. However, it is important to recognize that all knowledge has the potential to be extrapolated and generalized to a larger population, while also recognizing that every region has its own particularities and that all knowledge is local. All knowledge produced should be considered valuable.

The metrics of measuring knowledge are also racially exclusionary. Indices such as H-index and Citation indices are developed in the global North. Scholars from the African continent remain under-cited and less likely to serve on the editorial boards of scholarly publications. Critical race theorists have been interested in how citation politics shape disciplinary knowledge and the career trajectories of scholars of colour. For instance, two days ago, I saw this list of the top social science and humanities scientists published by based on citation metrics. As far as I could tell, it was a list dominated by white men. Most of those listed in the four African nations are mostly white scholars domiciled in the African continent.

With increased conversation on the decolonisation of scholarly publishing and knowledge production, scholars and researchers in the global south are finding more ways to speak out against these entrenched colonial ideas impacting academic publishing in the continent. For instance, when scholars from the global North show dominance and begin to own our local ways, they are quickly spotted and called out. Digital media spaces are giving voices in unprecedented ways. African scholars and researchers are now keen when global north scholars who come to the African continent conduct research for two weeks and then call themselves “experts” in a particular field of African studies. Three weeks ago, Berlin-based Journalist and Author Trish Lorenz implied that she had come up with Soro Soke, a Yoruba term for “Speak up”.

Equally important, it was noted from our research that there are drive-by African researchers and scholars to work outside the conventional structures of knowledge production and scholarly publishing, which is rooted in a desire to combat an unequal representation in global academic knowledge production. For instance, the editorial policy of the African Journal of social work anticipates that authors will have most of their citations from the continent, including African books, articles, definitions, concepts, theories, frameworks and orature (oral literature) that are abundant in Africa but has not been tapped in social work. Other journals like The Lancet have indicated that it will continue to reject article submissions with data from Africa that fail to acknowledge African collaborators in the interest of building African research and promoting integrity.

African Universities are also forming Alliances (Like Arua) aimed at – enhancing the quality of research done in Africa by African researchers

The scope of the Scholarly Publishing project at HUMA was significant. The issues mentioned here are just a drop in the ocean of the problems the continent is grappling with to leverage global knowledge production. But even with these issues, the continent is not just sitting and wallowing in the problems. I have shown a few examples of the solutions being adopted by African scholars and researchers. Research and debates on Scholarly Publishing and knowledge dissemination in Africa are essential for sustainable development and must be continuously nurtured.

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