Angela Okune, S. Adebowale, E. Gray, A. Mumo, and R. Oniang'o. "Discussion on Open Access (in Africa)," [Transcript], 2020, Research Data Share.


Discussion on Open Access in Africa

March 31, 2020

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM Nairobi

Participants (listed alphabetically):

  • Sulaiman Adebowale
  • Eve Gray
  • Angela Mumo
  • Ruth Oniang'o

Facilitator: Angela Okune

Angela Okune 0:01
So maybe if we could go around and briefly mention how everyone kind of first began getting involved or thinking about open access and kind of your initial motivation for being part of, you know, whatever is called Open Access in your various contexts, maybe we can start with Professor Oniang'o?

Ruth Oniang'o 0:25
Mine is a long story but I'll just cut it short really. When you came to Nairobi with Professor Chan, Leslie Chan, we were invited about 30 editors of journals around East Africa to undergo training. I had just started; I was in my third issue. Trying to print, trying to find the best way to mail to subscribers. Realizing that I had only seed money and it proved to be very very expensive. You know during that training; the whole issue of Open Access came up. Some of the journals - we were the newest journal - I was in my third issue - I was already almost giving up. And the others were already doing prints. They had a dedicated subscriber base who were paying. I didn't have that. I remember going through that whole training. It was just amazing; it was a game changer for us. And Open Access had just come, and I remember thinking, "Either we go online or I will fold up the whole thing." And from there on, the next issue was online. And until now, it's just been an amazing, amazing story. I recall, I just mentioned, one of the most difficult challenges. You only publish online, and someone is asking you for a copy. They are going to be interviewed you know for promotion. The university will not believe this. And I remember, printing, stamping saying it is peer reviewed, sending to the author saying, "just tell your committee they are a little behind." And, and that's how we started, and we have never really looked back... I'll leave it there.

Angela Okune 2:27
Wonderful. And remind me, this was in 2000 and... which year? that was in what year?

Ruth Oniang'o 2:36

Angela Okune 2:37
Wow, okay.

Ruth Oniang'o 2:39
Yeah, 2001. Yes, yeah.

Angela Okune 2:42
Thank you so much. Maybe... Angela?

Angela Mumo 2:50
Alright. Mine I'm a librarian by background. One of our librarians was sent to South Africa for a training on open access. When they came back, they trained all of us. That was in 2012. And we also noticed the universities wanted to be best ranked in Africa. So we sold the idea of open access to the university management. And they bought our idea of having our research on the repository. So from that time, the University of Nairobi has been keen on open access, they have a policy and they also - to cut a long story short - we are all on it and we are not looking back.

Angela Okune 3:36
Wonderful, thank you.

Sulaiman Adebowale 3:39
Ummm. how do I start? Okay. I worked previously with a research institute CODESRIA that had sevaral journals. And one of the questions we got in dissemination was how best to distribute the journals. CODESRIA have already been publishing and have already been disseminating and distributing their work long before the Internet or long before disseminating work through the Internet. They used to send printed copies to university libraries in Africa free because the institution is also a donor-funded institution and development partners that help. So, in a way it was not a profit-making institution. As t was serving the scholarly communities in both Africa and outside they have always been trying to look at, or ponder, okay, should we put our journals online or thereabout or not. But until about 2001/2002/2003 when they were trying to redesign their website that they finally took the decision to put the journals online, and so they did put the journals on the new website, at least in PDF form for it be viewed, and downloaded. And later all their publications and not just journals. And they did also got involved in several initiatives such as the African Journals Online and tried to look at developing repositories which I don't think they managed to do and the African Citation Index etc. But they did look at some of the issues around open access journals at that time. For instance, why then online only journals were still suffering from a couple of legitimacy issues. People were not regarding them as good journals in this sense. But it was easier for at least journals at that time that had a lot of experience printing and had already built a name to have something up online for people to download then. Of course, the economics come in to play, are people still going to subscribe...if we do that, but we didn't have a lot of worry about that because they, as I said, the publishing program was funded. So but then I left. So when I left CODESRIA and set up my own publishing outfit, Amalion I initially wanted to publish journals and I still do., I did publish one journal particular journal with a development organization here called WAPILC, looking at public interest litigation, an area that a lot of people in developing world don't look at a lot. And see whether this journal could be the compendium of discussions and ways of trying to talk about the parameters to promoting public interest litigation in Africa. But as the way things pan out with non-developmental organisations, sustainability and continuity is a key issue in funded person moves out of an institution and those coming in are no more interested in the previous project. So I said, "Okay, no more journals." [laughs] Anyway, I'm interested in the debate, I really, really share the ethos and the importance and the benefit of what open access scientific publications mean for the South and Africa in particular. But I will be listening to you most of the time, but some of my contributions will be trying to question you, I would like you to talk more about how it works for the monographs, for the books. So some of my questions to you will be around that because that's what I've been doing the past 10 years, basically over 10 years. So I, with my publishing program, am trying to publish scholarly work on Africa and trying to publish scholarly work on Africa beyond academia as well. Trying to publish works that you don't need a university degree to read. And we have done some interesting work. I should say, this has all been done in a commercial way, not open access. So how to fit the Open Access model for scholarly monographs would be an area I would really, really like us to touch on...for a private publisher, a commercial publisher that do not get funding for the work. Yeah, I've been involved with some work, some publications, with some development organizations. And I've made available copies, free copies of those work to those organizations where they are distributed and disseminated. But then the question of open access as both a model to promote the work, to promote the printed version, is interesting to me, but also as a model to get the word to the furthest reach possible is interesting to me. And how to fit that into the commercial model of publishing that I'm currently involved in? I know some publishers in Africa, have tried it and ...maybe one I know one that has, in a way been successful with it is African Minds.  I don't have their figures, I don't have their sales figures or anything. Here I'm talking about African Minds, am I right? Francois. Do you remember Francois?

Eve Gray 11:17
Yes, I was going to talk about him a bit later as well.

Sulaiman Adebowale 11:19
Yeah exactly, exactly. And so he has been able to have a model around that. So it's models like that, what indigenous scholarly publishers in Africa can do within the open access model and also within the open access S Coalition model. I don't know whether the Coalition is looking at its collaboration with indigenous commercial publishers on the continent, and how to tap what we do and what we tend to do, and how could it work well Plan S. In a nutshell, there is a basis in publishing it is that whatever is earned today on a publication is basically used to get other works published basically. So the stronger the scholarly publisher, the indigenous scholarly publisher is will depend on its capacity to be able to publish a wide range of books and publications including journals to keep going...sustainably. So, we may give this publication free now, what do we do and how do we create a means to be able to, to get to publish other work that maybe do not sell or will not sell well but are important for the discussion. So those are some of the elements I will be pushing to you in a way. In a nutshell. I hope I'm not too long.

Angela Okune 13:07
Thank you. Eve?

Eve Gray 13:13
Okay. It's partly a matter of age, but I was looking both sides of the divide. Because I was in publishing before apartheid, during the change and after. And it's a fascinating and paradoxical scenario to track. Because pre-apartheid, there was substantial use of open resources. The radical anti-apartheid publishers published open, they didn't copy write anything, they just published, and they put it out and they pushed it out and then ducked for cover. Some remarkable stuff was done. But in a sense, copyright was anathema because copyright played into the hands of the apartheid government. And also it recognized black writers and artists in a way that traditional situation didn't. In traditional copyright, those writers and creators were very badly marginalized. So if you're looking at it this way, I'm very aware of the failures of formal open access. Because there was the successful pre-apartheid publishing that was free and open. And anybody could access it and download it. And it spoke to important resources. And when we first went into open access, I went in, I think the closest person I was in the open access movement was Larry Lessig and Creative Commons. Now that had a lot of excitement to it, and it was going to work and we went, for example, to an international conference in Brazil, where we spoke about the possibility of uniting Latin America and Africa and working across the divides and working together and doing really creative stuff. And the president of Brazil made a wonderful speech about this being the opportunity to let the sound of the berimbau [Brazilian musical instrument] echo across the seas to Africa and back again, and to create a community of openness that would empower the world and change the vision of what was going on. Now I'm summarizing, I'll have to wrap this up, I suspect. But instead what happened. I don't know if you know, the nasty story of how Larry Lessig was gotten rid of?

Sulaiman Adebowale 15:39

Eve Gray 15:40
It was very ugly. And we were in a Creative Commons meeting a year or so later, and suddenly - I will not mention his name, because you probably know him - this German academic stood up, stood in the middle of the room blocking discourse, and went into this rant, which basically was the message that the Europeans were going to take over the Creative Commons, am I right Sulaiman? It wouldn't belong to the developing world anymore; the Europeans would take it over and they did. And Creative Commons became completely something else. It became a space of bureaucracy and control and codes of usage and so on. Sulaiman, you can spell it out more for me, I'm probably not the best of it. But it didn't have at its center anymore the idea of empowerment, and the empowerment particularly of developing country discourses and developing country communication strategies. In between, there was a lot of collaboration with Harvard and Yale, and very good conferences with them, and talking about open access in a very much broader context with people from all over the world and creating a global version of what could be done with openness and that was very exciting. But then it all slipped back into the same old University discourse of rules and regulations and how you do things and how many journal articles you've published and how many impact factors you produce and how much money the Americans can make out of this. And it takes me right back to the space I was when I was on the board of the Logos publishing journal, decades before, we saw what was happening was beginning to blossom, they noticed it, they said Robert Maxwell is going to do things. And exactly, Robert Maxwell came from Europe, into the hands of the British Council. And set the journal business as a big business, a big commercial business, and that took over Britain. I won't go into detail now. But you follow this through, you see the commercialization of scholarly discourse. You see the money side of scholarly discourse emerging and when I put that back next to our first post-apartheid version, it makes me sick. You know, something went really, really badly wrong. And that's what interests me is this misfiring of the system. And what is happening right now is the big American publishers are trying to close down the draft of our new copyright legislation. Because they say we can't have fair use, they've got it, among other things, you know, all this kind of logic. But basically, they don't want our publishing to be empowered, they want to go on controlling it. So there are all kinds of tools and prose in this and I'd love it with you people to try and work this through, because it's complicated stuff. And you know, I'm cautious of [inaudible] tapping it on my own. I don't know if it's familiar to you. So to me, the Budapest Initiative turns out to be the wrong turning. And I said this at the time, and I was given a curt two-word response and thrown out because the Budapest Initiative talks about journals and the journal culture. And I think that was a fatal mistake, because the journal culture is Robert Maxwell. It's the purposeful commercialization of everything. And it was the wrong move. We don't want commercial journals; we want I think that vision of open discourse and communication with one another. So that's just some of it. But that's the way my thinking was going. But we had an excitement of real openness and real Creative Commons. And then it was slowly throttled back commercial interventions. So Budapest Initiative turned out to be the low point I think, and the throwing out of Larry Lessig from Creative Commons, he was very embittered by that. So in an African context, it's also a seesaw between something that comes naturally to us which is communicating openly and the European imperative to be profitable and commercial, and ambitious and climb ladders. So I'm very interested by this, and I'd love to write about it more because I think it's striking something very interesting. Because what comes natural to us, I think is much more open than what we're doing now. Okay, so I fear we captured international commercial models. Alright, there's lots more one can go on about, but that's essentially the trajectory I went through. And thank you, Angela, for making me think about it.

Angela Okune 20:34
Yes. Well, thanks...

Eve Gray 20:35
I've done many things over many years, and suddenly you've made all this come together. And I think it's something we could very probably write up.

Angela Okune 20:43
Oh, lovely. Well, while you're...while you're starting to go into it, I would love to hear a little bit more about maybe if there are other key moments that you mentioned some of the low points any highlights maybe, or other kind of key milestones in your personal history?

Eve Gray 21:00
There have been highlights and that Larry Lessig time was a highlight because that was an impassioned view of what openness could be, and the people who were passionately committed to it. And there are others happening. Sulaiman mentioned Francois van Schalkwyk and African Minds. And that whole movement has been very interesting because it's played a sort of middle point. To my mind, it's too much on the Impact Factor side. But at the same time, I think with the help of Manuel Castells, they have set up a very unusual venture, which is completely open book publishing venture, which they managed to finance and they managed to get fine. And I worked with Francois right at the beginning, I think I might have put him on this track. So I liked it. So there are ventures like that that are going. There is a real power to openness in African literature and African thinking. And I think we've sidetracked to bad effect, and I think we need to get back to that. So what you're giving us here is perhaps a tour to look at it again, more critically. Yeah, so we got captured in the commercial models, and then we were sunk because that's not what we were about. I remember that first African Academies of Science got together with Elsevier, do you remember, and there was a huge [inadudible]. That's the sort of thing that happens. And I don't know about Plan S, I don't know enough about it to have an opinion on it. I can see problems in it, but it is aware at least to try and go about it it's not in the hands of the big commercial companies. Of course that's the fight at the moment it's between the big commercials and those of us who want a more local, a more variegated, a more open space. Does that make sense?

Angela Okune 22:51
Definitely, yes. Maybe if anyone else wants to maybe speak or throw in a couple of other kind of key moments in their own kind of relationship or personal histories with open access? Key kind of moments that they remember?

Ruth Oniang'o 23:14
That's very interesting you know. I really like the last two interventions and for me here in Nairobi, and I'm sure it will be the same with my colleague, I started this realizing that personally, I had difficulty publishing, I always wanted to, I've always loved editing and sharing information. And I guess I realized that I had difficulty publishing or even when I did, it didn't matter. I mean, what impact was it having on anyone? So when I was at the university, there was money, I was put on the editorial board and investors provided funding to start the journal, but there were no manuscripts. People still wanted to go for the international, peer-reviewed, well-recognized journals, you know? My own area is food science and nutrition. So as soon as I got my full professorship and I left, I said, I'm going to start a journal. I just woke up with a name. It has changed since and I started a journal. So the biggest challenge and even up to now has been how to get funding. So we struggle a lot now that we went private. So we published by a foundation. We are published by a Trust so we would like to turn that into a private company to try and generate resources. We have more manuscripts than we can handle. 300 [inaudible] and yet we put out six issues minimum per year. So there's a lot out there that people want to, to share in their own particular fields, I guess, focused in my own field. It is multidisciplinary within that field and it serves a need, fills a gap of my African colleagues who want to publish and the universities that we serve still have the motto of either publish or perish. So the challenge then was getting these to be indexed. You know, internationally. We may be addressing African local issues, but we still have to be seen to be competing internationally. That was a challenge and it took us a while before we got into Scopus. And it took a while before even South Africa scholars could publish with us because they kept saying, "where are you indexed? Where are you indexed?" You know? But at least now they have put us in their system. So we are now getting manuscripts from South Africa, so the challenge then became how do we raise funding. Personally I don't get paid in fact I feel I benefit more from it, because it keeps my mind going. I find it very exciting, but I have to run a system that you know that compensates those that help me to run this. So we started to charge authors. We don't charge a whole lot because none of us academics don't earn a lot. Some will tell you that "the project, I was working on already ended, what do we do." Like our, our issue 90 went out today. And then at the same time I received communication from a young scholar in Uganda, saying that their funding ended two years ago, and today I said okay I'll do it pro bono. You know, I'll do it pro bono. Yeah, yeah. So we come across such quite a lot. But I'm telling you there is a huge, huge demand by our African scholars especially in this field I'm in, to publish their work. And now, as I said earlier, open access is actually as regulations, as rules, and it can be shared. And we have like, you know anyone who wants to receive this actually receives it, and if they don't want it, tell us to unsubscribe them. And we reach virtually all corners of the world. So... and then, you know, scholars they come back and say, "Prof thank you so much. Ruth, thank you so much. I've managed to get my promotions just by sticking with the journal and publishing with the journal." So, my challenge then becomes that I have to make sure that we do this well. Just because we got into Scopus or we are indexed, we are all over, I've just been looking at our partnerships and so on. It doesn't mean we now go down because it won't just make sense. So then I also mentor, mentoring young people. I say the journal hopefully can outlive me. So I mentor, physically, Kenyans, but I also mentor virtually, you know, those who actually send in their papers. I say you can be a junior reviewer, write me something, write me a paragraph, let's start doing this. So right now I have like, 200 reviewers for this journal. So, it's... I can only say challenging but challenging in a very satisfying way. Yeah. So for this particular call I just...I'm excited about the sharing that we're doing. And I'm also excited to learn about how to go commercial [laughs] because we have to sustain... have to sustain the journal you know. And we have to make it work. And also the fact that others can actually take what we have published, we have a number of journalists who take some of the more interesting articles and they sort of put it in the popular version or prepare policy briefs out of it. Yeah.

Angela Okune 29:34
Thank you so much.

Eve Gray 29:35
Could I pick up off of that?

Angela Okune 29:37
Yes, go ahead Eve.

Eve Gray 29:39
Um, what's developed very strongly here, more recently, it's been something we've been plugging for a long time, which is acknowledging the importance of publishing for development. Now, there are dozens of research units and Angela sits sort of halfway between those and the journal publishers, dozens of research units that research what I would call the "body uncount" - how many people didn't die because of the research we did. Those are becoming more and more powerful and developing more and more in terms of strength. My best moment was during the first government's...uhhh, program to drive the reclamation of land, reallocation of land without payment. And the class in UWC, the poverty and agriculture NGO, sent a tweet to the Prime Minister of Australia and said, "Please, would you just listen to me on Australian television tonight, before you talk to those white farmers, I think you need to listen to me first." And he did and he didn't see them. But that to me was symbolic of the power of a version of publishing which is about development issues, rather than about promotions and journals and so on. And that's growing here, which is interesting. The World Bank said data first - the data unit out of the unit at UCT, which was completely open access and just spun of it. The World Bank says it's now the world leader's in data for developing countries. And it was one of these early initiatives that was open access you know, not really terribly ambitious about being anything, just doing data.

Sulaiman Adebowale 31:31
Can I say...

Angela Okune 31:32
Please, Sulaiman.

Sulaiman Adebowale 31:35
Professor Oniang'o, I'm really fascinated by the work you're doing there. And I can see a lot of parallels across the continent. Where, you know, as academic scholars in the desire to get published and the limited spaces for them to get published...we all know how that happened over the years from the 80's downwards and the death of the university presses and the funding allocation funding problems and well, basically the birth of some commercial publishers interested in scholarly publishing at that time and how towards the 90' all saw information technology as a tool to break out of that mode of operation to disseminate. And, and it's all across the continent, this collective academic initiative to set up journals. But what I find interesting and fascinating as well is how this initiatives move from the need to share, the need to publish, the need to disseminate, and then later on towards commercial models of operation in a way to sustain those journals. So I find it fascinating because I could pick you said you are thinking of setting up a private company for the journal to be able to manage and earn money for the journal in a way for obviously, to be able to continue publishing the journal. If a model like Plan S can get funding for the journal, so would that be an incentive for you not to go commercial on your own? If I could put it that way?  it's a question. One of the questions I wanted to tackle when I started my publishing program, and one of the things I saw clearly was that I could see a lot of journals being published by academics and authors on the continent. But I could see them publishing those journals, not very well, badly. And I could see, I could see they are repeating almost the same problem even some commercial publishers were facing regarding how to publish journals. And I was thinking, if it's difficult for northern academics to publish their own journals, what would make it easier for academics in the South to be able to publish their own journals? How would they survive? Shouldn't they be looking at commercial local publishers to help them out? There are commercial local publishers out there now that must have had experiences in that area, what must have been a reason or led to a situation where they academics didn't look at that. And now so if the area of funding can be taken care of, and then the journal editors can focus on creating the content and submitting the content to the commercial because that's exactly what we are doing with nearly all the academic journals being published by commercial publishers out of Africa. Basically, the editors are set up basically working on the journal and submitting it to the commercial Northern publisher to publish, basically. So the same quality of work could be sent to a commercial publisher locally to publish, and also be able to boost publishing development on the continent as well. And this collaboration is possible with local publishers. How do you make this work if you don't need to sell the journal?  You can also sell the journal because well, that's one of the models, it's that if anybody else is interested to buy, it's available to buy. If anybody can't afford to buy, it's available for them to use or to read. So I guess that's, that's what we are all thinking about open access, am I right? I mean, I mean, the idea of open access on the continent would be that money should not be an obstacle to access. Eh? Am I right?

Ruth Oniang'o 37:27
You are absolutely right. I just wanted to say, someone in the UK who really is pestering to buy us out. My, my problem with that is this. Personally, it may change after I exit the team. But personally, I pride in the fact that we can produce an internationally accepted journal in the South. It is managed in the South. For me, for me as Ruth, that may change you know because it's a question of ideals and principles and self-pride and so on. Yeah. So it might change for it to be sustained. But the other model I think the reason why I wanted to join this conversation is that I have seen where funders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have funded research and they have had certain conditions and they say Ruth, so long as [inaudible], so long as you quote A, B, C, D, we shall pay for the article to be published in your journal. So I would like to see more and more projects funded and including publication. Now some of our academics don't know that. They don't know that when they apply for grants and they get it, that they can actually put in publication fees. That has worked well. The other model that I use is getting a special issue. The special issues we've had...I've had ... have been best come out of America or elsewhere. And then they say look, we have most of our authors from Africa, and also working on African issues, but we have published it somewhere where nobody even can find it. No African can find it. Can we now restructure it and then you can actually publish it and then they pay...they pay us well. So we're also looking at those kinds of models. I'm hoping that as we attend these conversations and going forward, we can help each other with, amongst other things, the issue of sustaining...sustaining what we do. And the fact that even work can be based here on the continent and still get good funding and so long as we maintain really good quality. And we take a long time to review by the way. We go through many many stages and sometimes authors come to us and they want to withdraw their paper and they say, you know, it's taking too long and they say you can withdraw, but I won't advise you to do so because you will be happy with it when it's finally out. So, Angela knows that we used to be...we still are quality assured by Bioline, you know, University of Toronto. We are quality assured by them and that has really helped us to improve the quality of our output. And then we just take time and work with the author, to make sure that finally, they're happy with what comes out, and they're been part of the whole process. Yeah.

Angela Okune 40:52
Thank you. I don't know Angela, if you have anything you want to throw in?

Angela Mumo 40:57
I think I totally support Professor Oniang'o. There's a lot of research in Africa, a lot of it. But the problem with African research is access, because we do not have a single platform where that publication can be hosted. And the researchers kind of get frustrated. And that's why they go to the journals to publish in the journals that are outside Africa. And actually, the biggest problem is funding. African researchers are not funded. And they feel frustrated. They do their research with their own funds. And research is very expensive. So to me, in Africa, we are looking at a continent that is frustrated in terms of research funding. The universities have very little support to the researchers in terms of funding. So they kind of feel frustrated and when they do their own research, they go out there. Look for journals that can publish their work. I know African researchers have no problem with open access. Because at the end of the day they want their research accessed. But doing that research is very expensive. So I know if there can be a structured way of supporting African researchers, they can and they start their own journals...platforms where the African local content can be hosted. I think the issue of commercial will not come to their thinking. It is just out of you find you're doing a lot of research and nobody is recognizing what you are doing. And most of the time, you are just doing it to gain your promotion and after that, that is the end of it. So we feel there is a gap between us and the West. And that gap is in funding. The research is there, the researchers are there, but the support is very minimal.

Ruth Oniang'o 42:56
If I could add something quick, I've now been confronted by authors from the University of Nairobi, others from Ethiopia, whose work was found in predatory journals, and then they discover, they go for promotion and they are told, sorry, this is not accepted. Predatory journals. So now they come back to us and they've gone to withdraw some money now. Even small amounts. We don't charge a whole lot for us to be able to carry their work. And we also tell them, once it is out there in a predatory journal, we cannot take it.

Angela Mumo 43:33
Actually that is now a very, very big problem in Kenya, where the predatory publishers are rushing to Kenya, because they know the research is there and they know they will ask for a little money ...for them to publish your work. And so it's a catch 22, it's a catch 22 for Africa.

Ruth Oniang'o 43:53

Angela Okune 43:58
Well I think we've identified a couple of the gaps. I mean, I think, especially funding seems to come out resoundingly strong. Ummm... I'm curious what other kinds of support are available for open access, whether from the government or universities or development donors or other places? Or what isn't available? Where are other gaps, perhaps that need to be kind of filled if we are to actually support...and what kind of open access is being supported? Maybe that's another way to frame it. I know Eve opened us up so nicely to talk about how, you know, the open access kind of discourse has been used and kind of taken up in various ways. So I think open access just as a term is not the same thing across the board. And so I guess that's why I also am really curious just what we...what each of you sees, you know, as the promise...of what kind of open access. Like what is, what is the value still of open access in an increasingly commercialized scholarly landscape? [pause] So I guess the two questions are what support do you see is available? Yeah, maybe we can start there.

Eve Gray 45:15
Coronavirus is running wild. And all the macrobiologists I know are doing right now is online across the world all of them I think 2 million at a time will be communicating on something like Ebola, or the Coronavirus [? inaudible]. And they send the information back and forth amongst themselves and share it openly. And don't ask anybody and the journals come afterwards. But I think the journal environment that Angela's provided or is talking about seems to offer some answers. Because if there is going to be a Plan S and if it is going to be non-commercial, donor-funded support, maybe that's an answer. Who knows? Because at the moment, I think we're in a trap.

Angela Mumo 46:00
True, true.

Sulaiman Adebowale 46:02
Yeah, you're right. Absolutely, yes, yeah.

Angela Mumo 46:08
We are in a trap. There is no much support right now. And we feel like we are in a catch 22. And that kind of Plan S looks like it's going to be the solution, especially for us, Africa, who are...researchers are growing, and they need a lot of support to be out there and to reach those impact factors that are on the other side of the world. So that support, like, if I would talk about the green, the green publishing, where because I am on the repository, we...the only support we get is for storage of the data. But in terms of...because we have a lot of research, which is on the shelves, which needs to be digitized so that it can be accessed but there is no financial support because it is expensive to digitize. So you realize we still have a lot of research that is holed up in libraries. And it's not accessed...good research, which has been done by students and faculty. But because there is no support, we are unable to put this research online in the repositories. So to me, the only support I would talk about is just the storage because we are given cloud to store that data but after that, nothing more. Nothing more.

Ruth Oniang'o 47:34
Yeah. Archive, right? Archive. It's an archive for you but that's all you know?

Angela Mumo 47:38
Yes. There is so much that we need support for.

Angela Okune 47:45
Ummm, so it seems we've kind of danced around Plan S and I was approached, specifically to think about Plan S for this special journal issue because I think that they really want to figure out the politics of this specific plan. And I know we all have different levels of familiarity with it. From my understanding, it's a set of 10 principles. There are various funders that have kind of gathered behind it, funders and also libraries and others. And they have kind of one target that they have really pushed...around making, from 2021 all scholarly publications, and the results of research funded by grants that are provided by various national and international research councils and funding bodies, to be published in open access journals on open access platforms and made immediately available without embargo. And so that's kind of the goal that they're pushing towards...and as Eve was opening, you know, it looks like primarily it's been started and kind of organized in Europe. And so proponents say it'll, it'll help in terms of getting all of this kind of content made available online, open access. But critics have also argued that it's kind of got a narrow view and is missing maybe some of the social justice and development ethos that Eve I think you have talked about, and also ignores perhaps those who aren't working in a more strictly scholarly institutional setting like the university. And so perhaps makes it harder for this idea of open communication even beyond the academy, you know, and doesn't necessarily account for the idea of open access to be more than just another kind of way to get scholarly output. So I don't know...based on what we know of Plan S, does anyone have thoughts specifically on maybe effects of what a Plan S kind of model could have? Or how it might influence what you've described as kind of the challenges in your contexts related to publishing?

Ruth Oniang'o 50:22

Eve Gray 50:23
Could I just put something in there? Because what occurred to me while you were talking is we keep on talking about journals. What is published hugely, I don't know if it's the same in Kenya, Angela, but in South Africa, there are now a lot of publishers publishing development research very professionally, very successfully reaching quite big audiences. And we tend to ignore them because they're not journals. But I wonder if we fed that into a Plan S kind of plan if we might not get something very powerful. So if you have journals, and you have development focused research, both supported rather than just the journals supported. I wonder, I mean, it's only going through my head now, I'll think about it.

Angela Mumo 51:06
OK. Let me think about it...

Ruth Oniang'o 51:11
I think you are right. It all depends on how you define journal. You know, for me, journals would just be generic, but so long as work is factual, evidence-based, is well-presented out there, is peer reviewed, and that's what you're putting to other policymakers or to program implementers or it stays with universities but in fact more and more, and Angela will agree with me in Kenya, more and more, academics are being asked to go beyond the writing. They are being asked, what impact are they having on policies. What impact are you having on programs on the ground? How are you addressing issues of poverty? You know, hunger, inequality, gender, and so on. And so, academics are being pushed to go that direction, so they don't get sit in the lab and publish and write things for the sake of it. So you are right you know, I think it can cover broadly that kind of publishing.

Angela Mumo 52:23
I think you asked us our thoughts on Plan S. Personally, I feel it is timely. It's a good platform because from a librarian perspective, we are unable to do subscriptions. The journals are very expensive. We also have the issues, the problems of finances. So we are unable to buy journals for our libraries. So Plan S is a good idea. My only fear and preservation is still for my continent Africa because what we see we are talking of funded research. And the researchers in Africa and mostly in South Africa, because we know South Africa is quite ahead of us in terms of funding, supporting their researchers, but most of the African countries, the researchers are not funded. So I fear for them because it will mean their voices will be silenced. They will not be able to publish because eventually they will still be told to pay. And that issue of payment I think I've belabored... I don't know... because to me, it looks like it's just what is lacking in Africa. And more so in Kenya, that support to the researchers, that research fund that can support our local researchers so that they are able to publish their work. So my thought is the plan is good. It is timely for access to information immediately. But the African continent needs a lot of support. And of course, the support starts internally. We are not saying we are very poor, internally, we have a ministry, which is concerned with research. But I think bureaucracies... ummm, I don't know I'm not a politician...but I think we still have some money, but the ways to get hold of that money...So we need a lot of lobbying in Africa, to the governments, to the publishers, we all need to speak with one voice that research is crucial. And research is crucial, but it needs the support. The governments need to support research. The universities need to support research, because you find the funds that are set aside for research in universities is very little. Research is expensive. So to me, I feel the plan is good. But for Africa, we need a lot of lobbying, a lot of support internally to utilize the resources that we have. And maybe now before we cry out, we exhaust our resources and support our researchers so that they can feel that they are supported as they do their research. So that is my take that the Plan S is a good, a good model of publishing. It is timely. The librarians actually are just waiting for it because it will mean we bring home very good journals and articles that are published out there back home and our researchers and it will increase the visibility of our universities because of course for us, those articles will be accessed in the repositories. And it will mean the universities are more visible because the repositories will be visited frequently because of those resources. But we can't forget our own. Our own African research. There is a lot there to be supported. And that's my take.

Angela Okune 56:00
Thank you.

Eve Gray 56:02
Can I make a suggestion there? Which is, Sulaiman you mentioned African Minds and its Director, Francois van Schalkwyk. It's a maverick venture, but the more you talk, the more I think we should look at it. Because it's high quality Open Access, academic, but not built around impact factors and prestige systems and not funded by big donors. It's funded in quite a quirky way with a couple of foundations, and a couple of commercial ventures. And they've got this...I don't know if you've looked at it just google African Minds and go and look at the books they publish. They're not the conventional scholarly publishers; the high-quality books are for sale and digital versions of the books are given away free. The publishers raise the money from unusual sources, and it seems to work. They publish Manuel Castells [well-known international scholar]. It's worth a look if you haven't seen it, because I think we should look at what we can do. African Minds has worked with Nico Cloete of Crest at the University of Stellenbosch, which researches scholarly publishing and reward systems...I was on the Academic Staff Association with Nico Cloete at Wits years ago, and he's got a very shrewd, unconventional mind.

Ruth Oniang'o 57:05 

Okay. African Minds right?

Angela Mumo 57:07
I will, I'll look at it.

Angela Okune 57:12
I can send the link also after this on email to everyone, maybe and we can look at it together.

Ruth Oniang'o 57:19
Just to support what Angela was saying, my own views about Plan S. The advantage I saw was for the works funded by these particular organizations, the donor agencies, that they'll provide funding for publication. That's the bit I saw. But like she says, our problem here with African governments, they don't understand that whoever, you know, pays the piper, chooses the tune. You see. They want others to fund research then whose research fundings are they? Really... I hope after this Corona... I hope after this Corona... [inaudible as two speak at the same time]. They eat money, they eat everything. It's not that we don't have money. Angela. It's not that African governments are poor. That is not it. They just put in their pockets at the top. Kenya we are having serious serious issues right now. It is not that we don't have money. It just doesn't go to the right places and they don't [inaudible].

Angela Mumo 58:38
And they divert. They divert the funds. It is a bad scenario.

Ruth Oniang'o 58:43
Yeah, they divert. So I think it will leave out a lot of self-funded researchers. A lot of researchers are not funded within this framework. You know. So yes, we welcome it. It is really crucial for us. But at the same time, we need to find a way of balancing it. Yeah. So that we can also retain, you know, retain what is ours as well. Yeah. Feel like we are a part of it.

Angela Okune 59:15
Thank you. So I think I'm checking time and I'm seeing that we are nearing the end of our hour together. And you know, there was a lot to touch on so so there's still obviously more to discuss. Sulaiman...So maybe if everyone you know, feel free if there's something, a point that you wanted to make, perhaps that you didn't feel you could make or something you wanted to highlight. You know, please, maybe we can go around and feel free and then we can also hopefully, maybe even have future conversations and keep this going in different ways. Sulaiman, go ahead.

Sulaiman Adebowale 59:52
Angela touched on a lot of factors around funding and also  exposed some challenges and particularly with regard to Plan S. I mean, I don't know, how it can be possible somehow for commercial publishing in Africa to be on board Plan S, in a way and how it can be looked at in so many ways, because apart from the fact that they still have a better capacity to publish than the academics. So, a lot of collaboration with academic publishing, academic authors and commercial publishers in Africa will go a long way, there's a lot of mutual benefit. Because a commercial publisher in the South and a commercial publisher in Europe have been working differently and the current dynamics in the past 10 years even within Europe and North America a lot of commercial publishing outfits are really, really working based on funding they get through authors and on funding they get from institutions or authors get from institutions for those publications. So it's not, it's not like we are going to say commercial publishers in Africa need to publish these things on their own because that's not what's happening even in Europe or North America. All the university presses are getting a lot of funding, institutional funding and, and all the commercial publishers are also getting funding on various projects. That's one. So we shouldn't expect commercial publishers on the continent to just bear the full cost. So we should get the funding, also a space where there will be a multiple, a multitude of strategies and a multitude of actors. So one of the actors would be commercial and one of the actors and within plan S I'm in particular talking about...and they also could also be able to get funding for scholarly publishing within the plan for monographs that's one level. The second level is further. The fact that funding platform and the funding system itself has its own baggage and working processes which are not all effective, which could be very, very limiting as well. And basically, if you look at the way NGO funding is happening on the continent to embark on various projects, including studies and research, and some of the limitations getting that. There are pockets of funding within the continent which Angela did raise. And if I will speak for Senegal as an example, and this is one area I did not see clearly with Plan S, is that, there is still funding in National Academy of Sciences for instance. In addition, Senegalese universities are involved with some level of publication support, but right now who is benefiting from those support for example in Senegal are predatory publishers actually. In other words, what you call predatory, I call them self-publishers. Publishing services kind of offer for authors to self-publish. I guess those are the ones you are calling predatory publishers I think if I'm not wrong. And they are the ones benefiting from it with a lot of authors getting their work published through them with funding from their universities actually, and from various research institutes. And this work when it's finished, it's being sold at extravagant prices on Amazon and all that and in fact don’t circulate on the continent, that's another issue. You could say okay, now we could insist those work gets circulated on the continent and all that, shipping comes in and all that, and the Internet access mechanisms and all that issues around bandwidth come into question later on. If those repositories are not African based like Angela's repository in Kenya, for instance, which is great. So for the Plan S, it's not just to fund the publication, but also to support access to repositories that will make it easier to download the content from within the continent that are very, very critical. So unless we have to, get local funding, get local Academy of Sciences, research institutes and bodies, higher education administrative bodies, Ministry of Higher Education involved in these activities in a way could be fundamental to its success because when all of this international funding just disappear, we know they do.

But I wanted to share something with you, I don't know whether you know DACS, basically it's a digital access collection agency sort of for images, based in the UK and there are branches as well in the US I think. And basically, if you've published any book and you've you've sourced for images, you know we pay a lot for these images. I mean, I deal with them and you do pay...sometimes you pay close to 200 pounds sterling to use an image maybe more depending on what the image is and for what, and they collect these rights for the artist and photographer or copyright owner. Now, last week, I got a notice from DACS and DACS says and they have started a policy where they, as an academic journal, as an academic journal, you can now get an image free. And so they have waived the rights if you're printing less than 4,000 copies. I mean, that would actually be all journals in Africa would be under that category. So many journals in the world that don't actually print 4,000 copies anymore anyway. Which means that if a body like DACS is ready to waive copyright fees to use an image as a journal cover for instance, that goes in a way to the economics of the business in itself. Right now their policy does not include any journal outside the UK, so you must be UK based. So that cuts out tons of other journals. But if for instance, Plan S has a feature within it or collaborations that allow, certain components within the production system, where academic journal publishers or publishers of academic publications in general can access at a reduced rate, that's also in a way, cut down the risk of some of the commercial investment. So, the commercial publishers are needed. do we incorporate commercial publishing? There are examples of commercial publishing very involved in open access on the continent. How can we get them more involved on the continent? How do we get to ensure that Plan S is very very much involved with local higher education management institutions and research management institutions at the public level, and how to create or ensure that repositories that these journals are in are also within the continent itself for easier access. Of course that may involve some sort of modality with the telephone companies, which are the biggest access right now. Mobile phone companies that are providing most of the access one the Internet. So what can be done?  There's a way Facebook and Google can have collaborations with telecoms companies in Africa, where you could be able to access Google, you can able to access Facebook without spending too much. So, imagine if an African researcher is able to access a repository and the corresponding bandwidth at a lower rate for instance, you know. Imagine what that would do to the sort of document they could download, the volume of documents they could download, you know.  Data costs money and data is one area where the telephone companies are really, really maximizing their profits on the continent. So it's a great start, but it shouldn't be something that will cut out indigenous entrepreneurship because indigenous entrepreneurship is what builds sustainable publishing systems in Europe and North America. So how do we support indigenous entrepreneurship within the area of academic publishing within Plan S or Plan Z or any other plan that comes up. There would be multiple plans. There could be even plans set up by African institutions themselves, you know, it could be national, it could be regional, it could be somewhere in between. So that's just what I wanted to touch on.

Angela Okune 1:12:00
Thank you so much. Maybe Eve or Angela or Ruth, if you want some last comments?

Ruth Oniang'o 1:12:23
I really enjoyed this and I just hope that we can stay connected. Angela, thank you for bringing us together and we need to continue with this conversation. I think there's a lot to share. Because just a few of us are here, you know, we can help each other out and also seek resources in whatever form that we can connect each other to but you can see each one of us has a real real passion to do this. You need passion. You know, it's like parenting. [laughs] You have no choice as a mother or a father but to care for your kids. And I think that's how we are holding what we do so dearly. Without passion you can't sustain this. That's what I've found out. And I'm just happy to be a part of this and let's continue to share and let's be part of the conversation.

Angela Mumo 1:13:23
Also I think it is a good opportunity to share and we have learned lots. I have actually learned a lot of ourselves from you also. So it's a learning exercise and the debate is very healthy because the debate of Plan S, which I think is going to take this nation, I mean, this country, especially Kenya, to the next level is very important. So thank you so much for hosting us and pray that we meet again.

Angela Okune 1:13:55
Thank you. Eve?

Eve Gray 1:13:55
I've not really much to say no, I've said quite a lot. I just feel a little cautious of a Plan S as a place full of big funders you know [laughs]. I hear the sound of gobbling up. But that's, that's, something one's just got to be careful of. But I think it's been a very valuable discussion this afternoon, some very interesting things have come out of it. I'm going to go find out why the successful people like Francois van Schalkwyk are successful from outside the university systems. I'll try and work out what they did.

Angela Okune 1:14:28
Yes, that'd be lovely. So maybe, you know, in terms of next steps, I will share on email links to kind of an essay, if you will, where I will be putting the data but also other resources. So you know, I was finding various talks that you all have given previously, interviews you've done, various folks like Leslie have shared with me resources as well. And so I'm hoping to actually have it be not just our conversation here, but also other materials that you think can help inform the broader conversation. So do please share with me any resources, links, materials that you may have, that you think can also help to be part of informing this and thank you all so much again for your time. Have a great evening. Stay, stay safe and take care.

All 1:15:21
Thank you. Thank you. Bye!


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

April 4, 2020 - 6:48pm

Critical Commentary

Cite as:

Angela Okune, S. Adebowale, E. Gray, A. Mumo, and R. Oniang'o. "Discussion on Open Access (in Africa)," [Transcript], 2020, Research Data Share.

AO: This is a transcript of a discussion held on March 31, 2020 between scholars (bios available here) thinking about the opportunities and risks, promises and disappointments of Open Access on the African continent. The audio file is available here. All participants gave oral consent for both the audio and transcript data to be shared for public resuse on the RDS platform.

The discussion was guided using this set of questions, although we did not have the time to touch on all questions. The discussion was held on Zoom and there was an initial delay of 30 minutes to troubleshoot some technical difficulties. Once we were able to get the conversation going, it lasted for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. The conversation began by discussing the interest and experiences of the four participants (hailing from Kenya, South Africa, and Senegal) with Open Access. We moved to discussing the potential effects a mandate like Plan S could have on the sociotechnical publishing systems on the continent.

At the completion of the discussion, the audio file was uploaded to which ran an initial automated transcription. I (AO) then listened to the entire recording at 0.75 speed and edited for accuracy. I emailed the transcript to discussion participants to request for any further corrections and edits, especially on some of the names which were mentioned that I missed. Received corrections were then incorporated into the transcript.


Angela Okune, S. Adebowale, E. Gray, A. Mumo, and R. Oniang'o



Cite as

Angela Okune, Sulaiman Adebowale, Eve Gray, Angela Mumo and Ruth Oniang'o, "Angela Okune, S. Adebowale, E. Gray, A. Mumo, and R. Oniang'o. "Discussion on Open Access (in Africa)," [Transcript], 2020, Research Data Share.", contributed by Angela Okune, Research Data Share, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 10 April 2020, accessed 28 May 2024.