Africa: An African Charter to Advocate for Equality in Science
More than 90 universities and scientific institutions in Africa have endorsed a charter aimed at addressing the power imbalance in global knowledge and research production and bridging the gap between universities in high-income and low-income countries.
In 2018, four regions in Africa (Central, Eastern, Southern, and Western Africa) produced only 1.6% of the total global scientific publications, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), despite representing 10% of the global adult population.
According to UNESCO, the majority of research projects in Africa result from collaborations with wealthy countries, primarily the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. These collaborations accounted for up to 88% of scientific work in Eastern and Central Africa and 85% in Southern Africa between 2017 and 2019.
“The goal is to ensure that African scholars, institutions, and knowledge from the continent occupy their rightful place in global scientific efforts,” said Isabella Aboderin, Director of the Perivoli Africa Research Centre.
Facilitated by the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (PARC) at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of South Africa (UNISA), this new charter aims to empower African researchers and institutions to have a greater presence in research partnerships and global scholarships to promote social justice.
Isabella Aboderin, holder of the Perivoli Chair in Africa Research and Partnerships and Director of PARC, stated that the disparities were a consequence of unequal rules in the global academic and scientific sector.
“These power imbalances are a legacy of colonialism that continues to disadvantage African scholars, higher education institutions, and the broader economic and political perspectives of the continent, depriving global research of the urgently needed diversity,” she told SciDev.Net.
According to UNESCO, only a few highly cited scholars are associated with African universities, and a small number of researchers and scientific publications are African.
Isabella Aboderin asserts that the charter, launched in Namibia at the beginning of July, aims to address the imbalance in global research and the scientific ecosystem.
“The goal is to ensure that African scholars, institutions, and knowledge from the continent occupy their rightful place in global scientific efforts, in the fields of formal, natural, and social sciences, as well as arts and humanities,” she added.
According to the charter, such rebalancing is crucial in fostering a more inclusive and enriching research, necessary to uphold human dignity and tackle the collective crises faced by the global community.
The charter sets forth 12 principles to address power imbalances at multiple levels – language, theories and concepts, institutional resources, and concrete partnership agreements.
Key objectives include creating a radically new approach to research collaboration, with a specific focus on narrowing the gaps in scientific knowledge generation, promoting fair standards and best practices, and introducing an Africa-centric framework to measure success.
Isabella Aboderin stated that 91 representatives from key higher education and science institutions in Africa and beyond have officially endorsed these principles and aspirations, and have committed to supporting and engaging in broader initiatives and programs to achieve them.
Obed Ogega, researcher and Program Manager at the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) in Nairobi, believes that this initiative will enhance research collaboration, even within the African continent itself.
“We find the idea of rebalancing the global science and research ecosystem with reference to Africa to be fundamentally important, as it reflects what we do at AAS and, specifically, the challenges we face on the continent in terms of research,” added Obed Ogega, who did not participate in the drafting of the charter.
He emphasized that research funding is essential, as it influences the direction of research.
“If this charter can encourage our governments to allocate just 1% of their budget to universities for research, it alone can greatly contribute to strengthening research capacities on the continent,” concluded Obed Ogega in an interview with SciDev.Net.