post by Pablo de Castro, Carlos III
University Madrid, Spain
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure
of attending the first Open
Access Africa conference (OAA2010), organised by BioMed
Central and ComputerAid
International at Kenyatta University, Nairobi. Here, the struggle for
initial implementation of access to academic research resources was to be promoted and
discussed, along with philosophical implications of Open Access in developing
countries. Here’s a brief report on some
of the discussions that were held there. The impact of the event was captured
by a suggestion from the audience for a Nairobi Declaration of Open Access.
With the attendees coming mainly from
East African countries, the OAA2010 conference was a hugely successful
opportunity for debating the challenges Open Access
expansion faces in the developing world.
It was agreed African research could and
should generally be conceived as a way of benefiting society as a whole, by
focusing on issues that may help alleviate poverty and disease. The Malaria Atlas Project as
presented by Robert W. Snow, or work carried out at
Nairobi-based branch of ComputerAid International, as described by Gladys
Muhunyo, were examples of success stories mentioned along the conference.
The picture of research being carried out
in Africa was shown to be biased and underrepresented in international
indexes of scientific output . The
worldwide problem of publication visibility becomes particularly critical in an
environment where few local high-impact journals are available and minimal
resources may be allocated for paying author fees for publishing papers.
Policies such as BioMed Central Open Access
waiver fund on submissions from developing countries will certainly help
breaking this vicious circle, but those measures should be accompanied by
promotion of local journals featuring specific contents with a view to
providing a basis for independent development of local research. African Journals Online (AJOL) was presented as a
pioneering OJS-based collection of continent-wide Open Access journals which
already cover over 25% of papers published in Africa – well over the 20%
global goal for 2020 ("conference topics should as well include ‘what
the rest of the world may learn from Africa’" by AJOL manager Susan
Murray was a fair candidate to OAA tweet of the week).
There’s this specific fact about Open
Access and institutional repositories – it will always be easier to get on with
their development for those arriving last, as they will be able to benefit from
experience and know-how from previous testers avoiding the mistakes they made
on the way. So no matter how discouraging some situations may seem, such as
levels of access to the Internet or availability of research sources even
within institutional environments, the way institutional repositories are being
built in Kenyan universities (thanks to effective coordination efforts by KLISC and to the commitment of an enthusiastic
group of information professionals struggling to saw the seeds for an Open
Access infrastructure) shows there is a real opportunity for research in Africa
to get the impact and relevance it deserves.