Open access and social justice driving African development
Many countries in Africa lack the capacity to collect, manage, and report on demographic, social, economic, and environmental data. This is especially alarming in an increasingly digital, knowledge- and information-based world. This information is critical for governments to be able to develop better policies and interventions and respond more effectively to their national development challenges (Africa 2018: SDG Index and Dashboards Report)
The open access movement is being hailed in Africa as one of many solutions that can contribute to its development, as it opens access to scholarly literature which is critical for development. To fast track a positive development trajectory, Africa needs access to scholarly content to generate new knowledge, which provides solutions, at an exponential rate, to local challenges. Hence, there is growing reliance on freely accessible scholarly content, as well as free and open channels for the dissemination of scholarly information generated from the global south. Driving these free access and open dissemination channels is the social justice principle that researched and published solutions need to be equitably shared. As much as there is strong advocacy for free access, there has to be equal support for inclusive participation by global south researchers in knowledge creation and the free and equitable dissemination of this knowledge.
The open access movement must embrace the social justice elements embedded in the movement and robustly advance the liberation of marginalised voices. These “new voices [need] to find their way into disciplinary conversations, reach new audiences, both academic and public, and impact existing and emerging fields of scholarship and practice in a transformative way” (Roh 2016: 83). Open access services must become mainstream for academic and research institutions in Africa as open access is one of the most significant conduits for inclusive and free access to scholarship for the marginalised and has the mandate and potential to strongly promote unhindered participation in knowledge production.
This symposium must challenge the open access movement and its advocates with their social justice principles to usher in equity and equal opportunity and to open the doors for full participation of new African voices in the scholarly communication landscape. There has to be a mind-set shift away from the assumption that the global south will remain ignorant and underdeveloped until it has access to the global north’s knowledge. The creation and dissemination of global south research will convert the one directional flow of information to a facilitated process of equitable knowledge exchange.
The need for access to, and participation in knowledge production is at the epicentre of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is expected to shape the global agenda on economic, social and environmental development for the next decade or so. The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) views SDGs as a framework for development with access to information at their core. The emphasis of the SDGs, for Africa and many other parts of the global south, is the elimination of extreme poverty, the reduction of child mortality, the promotion of gender equality, the halting of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and the provision of universal primary education for the world’s poorest. This symposium will interrogate the role of open access in enhancing capacities to achieve the SDGs and promote African growth and development.
The social justice principles of the openness movement must underscore the need for equitable dissemination of marginalised research and to improve access to content in support of liberating repressed African scholarly content. This is a week for workshop engagements and invited papers for critical discourse to advance African open scholarship within a social justice paradigm.