Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا
In the same section


Putting African Scholarly Journals Online: Opportunities, Implications and Challenges

6-7 October 2008, Dakar, Senegal

Among the numerous challenges facing social research in Africa is the lack of visibility for research
output. Traditionally, research findings are presented in conferences through conference papers which
are subsequently published as articles in scholarly journals, and eventually as books. Presently, it is
extremely difficult for researchers in the various social science disciplines to publish in African
journals, either because such journals do not exist in their fields, or because those that exist are
published very irregularly or have discontinued publication. Rare are African social science journals
that are regular, and very few that manage to be published benefit from good dissemination.

The reasons for this situation are first related to a chronic lack of financial resources in higher
education and research institutions, and in the professional associations that publish journals, in a
context where there are very few commercial scholarly publishers. When these journals manage to be
published somehow, only a few copies are produced. Even then, the journals published do not benefit
from efficient distribution networks and, besides, suffer from the slow and unreliable African mail
systems, resulting in limited distribution that seldom goes beyond the borders of the countries in which
the journals are published.

The consequences of such a situation are manifold. Apart from depriving African social research of the
means to enhance its visibility nationally and internationally, the situation results in major hindrances
to the promotion of African academics and researchers. In fact, owing in particular to the lack or
irregularity of these publications, African higher education and research institutions tend to put in place
teacher and researcher evaluation systems that privilege publications in scholarly journals published in
developed countries. The limited number of articles published by African researchers in so-called
“International Journals” is what is taken into account by evaluation tools such as the Sciences Citations
Index for measuring the quality and importance of African social research, giving of course a picture
that is not in tune with reality.

With the advent of electronic journals since the beginning of the 1990s, new publication opportunities
have arisen. Produced and disseminated using ICT facilities readily available today to many African
higher education and research institutions, electronic journals offer clear advantages in that they do not
involve significant production costs, are not limited in terms of number of pages or use of colours for
illustrations, do not entail forwarding costs because they are published on the Web and, besides, are
available instantly and at any time wherever there is Internet access. Further more, with the many
specialised or non-specialised search engines that index the Web, they are widely referenced and
therefore, easy to view, which increases significantly their dissemination and their impact.

Today, very few institutions of higher education and research in Africa currently take advantage of the
opportunities offered by electronic journals. For examples, the African Journals Online (AJOL) project
only offers 271 titles on-line –including five (5) published by CODESRIA, namely the CODESRIA
Bulletin, Africa Development, Afrika Zamani, Identity, Culture and Politics: An Afro-Asian Dialogue
and the African Sociological Review – of which 67% come from two countries, Nigeria (125) and
South Africa (56). Reasons for the low number and poor knowledge of electronic journals in Africa
include ignorance, distrust, defiance, resistance, lack of skills and lack of equipment.

In the light of this situation and its challenges, CODESRIA has deemed it useful to encourage African
social scientists actively involved in research, publishers who disseminate the results of such research,
and the information professionals who collect, indicate and promote the research, to debate and discuss
the different issues raised around electronic journals, in order to better promote their knowledge and
development. To that end, the four sub-themes below have been identified:

(1) Strategic, scientific, individual and institutional considerations: migration from paper to digital
forms vs creation of new journals; fully on-line editorial process vs putting on-line the final
content; proprietary software vs free software; trust/distrust/defiance towards electronic journals,
taking into account vs rejection for the evaluation of researchers, validation process and scientific
quality, attitudes, behaviours and motivation of researchers, etc.

(2) Dissemination and storage methods: complementarity/substitution with paper format, free,
restricted or paying access, per case vs subscription-based access, dissemination format (HTML,
PDF, XML, etc), referencing (description and indexation), support and sustainability of archiving
(paper, CDROM, etc), etc;

(3) Economy of electronic journals: implications in terms of human resources, cost of technical
devices, commercial viability, intellectual property and copyrights, alternative copyright (Creative
Commons and Copyleft Licences, Design Science License, etc), information as universal public
good, publishing market vs knowledge market, etc.

(4) Experience feedback and projects: experience sharing, comparative studies, lessons drawn from
successes and failures, projects, etc.

March 31 2010