Africa’s research equality charter to ‘bridge divide’
Universities have endorsed a new charter which would give African researchers a greater role in research alliances.
- 21 July 2023
- 4 min read
- by SciDev.Net
More than 90 universities and science institutions in Africa have endorsed a charter to redress the power imbalance in global knowledge and research production and close the gap between universities in high- and low-income countries.
In 2018, four regions in Africa – Central, Eastern, Southern and Western – produced just 1.6 per cent of the total global scientific publications, according to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is despite the regions making up ten per cent of the world’s adult population.
Also according to UNESCO, the majority of African research projects are collaborations with wealthy countries – predominantly the United States, UK and France. These collaborations constitute up to 88 per cent of scientific work in East and Central Africa and 85 per cent in Southern Africa between 2017 and 2019.
“The aim is to ensure that African scholars, institutions and knowledges from the continent take their rightful place in the worldwide scientific efforts.”
Isabella Aboderin, director, Perivoli Africa Research Centre
This new charter – facilitated by Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) at the University of the University of Bristol, in the UK, in association with the University of Cape Town (UTC) and the University of South Africa (UNISA) – will attempt to get African researchers and institutions to occupy more space in global research alliances and scholarships to spur social justice.
Isabella Aboderin, Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnerships and director of PARC, said the disparities were a consequence of the uneven playing field in the global academic and scientific sector.
“These power imbalances are legacies of colonialism that continue to disadvantage African scholars and higher education institutions, the continent’s broader economic and political prospects, and they deprive global scholarship of the richness it so urgently needs,” she told SciDev.Net.
According to UNESCO, only a few highly cited scholars are associated with African universities and a disproportionately small number of researchers and scientific literature are African.
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Aboderin says the charter, launched in Namibia earlier this month (5 July), seeks to address the imbalance in global research and the science ecosystem.
“The aim is to ensure that African scholars, institutions and knowledges from the continent take their rightful place in the worldwide scientific efforts—across the formal, natural and social sciences, arts and humanities,” added Aboderin.
According to the charter, such rebalancing is important to foster a richer, inclusive scholarship needed to sustain human dignity and tackle the crises facing the global community collectively.
The charter articulates 12 principles to redress multi-layered power imbalances—at the level of language, theories and concepts, institutional resourcing, and concrete partnership arrangements.
The key goals include creating a radically new approach to research collaboration with specific focus on redressing gaps in the generation of scientific knowledge, championing new equitable standards and best practices and introducing an Africa-centered framework to measure success.
Aboderin said that 91 representatives of key higher education and science bodies in and outside Africa formally endorsed its principles and aspirations and resolved to support and engage with the wider initiatives and programmes to realise them.
Obed Ogega, researcher and programmes manager at the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in Nairobi, said the initiative would improve research collaboration even within the African continent itself.
“We find the idea of rebalancing global science and research ecosystem in reference to Africa quite fundamental because it speaks to what we do at AAS and, more specifically, the challenges we face on the continent when it comes to research,” said Ogega, who was not involved in establishing the charter.
He said the issue of research funding was key, because the source of funding influences the direction research takes.
“If this charter can rally our governments to commit just one per cent of their budget to universities for research, that alone can go a long way in strengthening research capacity on the continent,” Ogega told SciDev.Net.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.