From Local to Global: The Quest for African Journals’ Visibility

October 5, 2023

By Patrick Amboka, Leah Mwangi, Kirimi Sindi, and Marylene Wamukoya

Africa boasts some of the world’s oldest and most esteemed centers of learning, including the University of Al-Karaouine, Al-Azhar University, and the Sankore Mosque and University. However, much of Africa’s intellectual heritage, stored in texts and libraries, has been lost to conflicts and colonial plundering. These losses have also taken a toll on Africa’s indigenous knowledge system, particularly its invaluable oral traditions. As a result, Africa’s standing in the global academic community dwindled, leading to the moniker, “the dark continent“, due to its perceived lack of scholars and scholarly contributions.

Despite the proliferation of higher education institutions across the continent, the recognition of African scholarship remains an ongoing challenge. This issue is particularly acute for peer-reviewed academic journals, the primary conduits for disseminating scholarly knowledge. These journals are crucial for advancing local expertise in various fields, encompassing African history, culture, science, technology, and medicine. However, African journals grapple with substantial obstacles in gaining visibility, both within the continent and on the global stage. Consequently, their impact tends to be confined to local or, at best, regional readership, curbing their potential for worldwide influence.

Professor Patrick Erah, the chief editor of the Tropical Journal of Pharmaceutical Research, has rightly pointed out that addressing the low visibility of African journals is a multifaceted issue, requiring a sustainable, African-led approach.

The Catalyze Impact via Africa-led Implementation Research (Catalyze) Project

In response to these challenges, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) has taken proactive steps through the Catalyze Impact via Africa-led Implementation Research (Catalyze) project. This initiative seeks to characterize the problems surrounding the visibility of African journals and develop strategies to enhance their prominence. African journals play a pivotal role in shaping the continent’s academic landscape and can contribute significantly to the global dissemination of knowledge. These journals are invaluable platforms for scholars and researchers to share their findings, ideas, and innovations while amplifying voices often underrepresented in mainstream international publications.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of the factors hindering the visibility of African research journals, the Catalyze project conducted three virtual workshops with journal editors in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. During these interactions, several key contributors to the limited prominence of African journals were identified, including financial constraints, a scarcity of peer reviewers, and insufficient support from government agencies.

Increasing prominence

Elevating the visibility of African journals is pivotal in fostering knowledge-sharing within African communities, and empowering them to devise contextually-relevant solutions to pressing societal challenges. Here are key approaches aimed at creating a more inclusive and accessible knowledge environment in Africa as proposed by APHRC:

  1. Open Access Initiatives: Embracing open-access models can significantly expand the reach and impact of African journals, making information, ideas, and knowledge accessible to a wider audience in Africa and around the world.
  2. Collaboration and Multilingualism: Overcoming regional and language barriers is crucial. Initiatives like multilingual content platforms can foster collaboration across Africa, facilitating knowledge sharing among academic and policymaking communities.
  3. Scholarly Database Inclusion: Championing the inclusion of African journals in prestigious scholarly databases enhances their visibility and the quality of published articles, ultimately attracting more readers, contributors, and global recognition.
  4. Promoting an Equitable Knowledge Ecosystem: Policies and regulations that support knowledge production, dissemination, and access without socioeconomic or geographic hindrances are essential to creating an equitable knowledge ecosystem.
  5. Gender Representation: Addressing gender imbalances in African journal editorial boards is vital to broaden perspectives and expertise, ultimately leading to more impactful scholarship.

A New Era for African Journals

The journey towards increased visibility may be long and winding, but it promises academic growth, intellectual diversity within Africa, and enrichment of the regional and global knowledge bases. Commitment and a shared vision are evident in initiatives like the Catalyze project, which draw inspiration from Africa’s rich scholastic history and the growing critical mass of African scholars.

In conclusion, the quest for increased visibility of African journals, from local to global, not only honors Africa’s enduring pedagogic legacy but also shapes its future as a vibrant center of academic excellence.