African Open Science Platform Part 1: Landscape Study

Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) (2019-08)

This report maps the African landscape of Open Science – with a focus on Open Data as a sub-set of Open Science. Data to inform the landscape study were collected through a variety of methods, including surveys, desk research, engagement with a community of practice, networking with stakeholders, participation in conferences, case study presentations, and workshops hosted. Although the majority of African countries (35 of 54) demonstrates commitment to science through its investment in research and development (R&D), academies of science, ministries of science and technology, policies, recognition of research, and participation in the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI), the following countries demonstrate the highest commitment and political willingness to invest in science: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. In addition to existing policies in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), the following countries have made progress towards Open Data policies: Botswana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, South Africa and Uganda. Only two African countries (Kenya and South Africa) at this stage contribute 0.8% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to R&D (Research and Development), which is the closest to the AU’s (African Union’s) suggested 1%. Countries such as Lesotho and Madagascar ranked as 0%, while the R&D expenditure for 24 African countries is unknown. In addition to this, science globally has become fully dependent on stable ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) infrastructure, which includes connectivity/bandwidth, high performance computing facilities and data services. This is especially applicable since countries globally are finding themselves in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR), which is not only “about” data, but which “is” data. According to an article by Alan Marcus (2015) (Senior Director, Head of Information Technology and Telecommunications Industries, World Economic Forum), “At its core, data represents a post-industrial opportunity. Its uses have unprecedented complexity, velocity and global reach. As digital communications become ubiquitous, data will rule in a world where nearly everyone and everything is connected in real time. That will require a highly reliable, secure and available infrastructure at its core, and innovation at the edge.” Every industry is affected as part of this revolution – also science. An important component of the digital transformation is “trust” – people must be able to trust that governments and all other industries (including the science sector), adequately handle and protect their data. This requires accountability on a global level, and digital industries must embrace the change and go for a higher standard of protection. “This will reassure consumers and citizens, benefitting the whole digital economy”, says Marcus. A stable and secure information and communication technologies (ICT) infrastructure – currently provided by the National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) – is key to advance collaboration in science. The AfricaConnect project (AfricaConnect (2012–2014) and AfricaConnect 2 (2016–2018)) through establishing connectivity between National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), is planning to roll out AfricaConnect 3 by the end of 2019. The concern however is that selected African governments (with the exception of a few countries such as South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia and others) have low awareness of the impact the Internet has today on all societal levels, how much ICT (and the 4th Industrial Revolution) have affected research, and the added value an NREN can bring to higher education and research in addressing the respective needs, which is far more complex than simply providing connectivity. Apart from more commitment and investment in R&D, African governments – to become and remain part of the 4th Industrial Revolution – have no option other than to acknowledge and commit to the role NRENs play in advancing science towards addressing the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals). For successful collaboration and direction, it is fundamental that policies within one country are aligned with one another. Alignment on continental level is crucial for the future Pan-African African Open Science Platform to be successful. Both the HIPSSA ((Harmonization of ICT Policies in Sub-Saharan Africa) project and WATRA (the West Africa Telecommunications Regulators Assembly), have made progress towards the regulation of the telecom sector, and in particular of bottlenecks which curb the development of competition among ISPs. A study under HIPSSA identified potential bottlenecks in access at an affordable price to the international capacity of submarine cables and suggested means and tools used by regulators to remedy them. Work on the recommended measures and making them operational continues in collaboration with WATRA. In addition to sufficient bandwidth and connectivity, high-performance computing facilities and services in support of data sharing are also required. The South African National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS) has made great progress in planning and setting up a cyberinfrastructure ecosystem in support of collaborative science and data sharing. The regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) Cyber-infrastructure Framework provides a valuable roadmap towards high-speed Internet, developing human capacity and skills in ICT technologies, high-performance computing and more. The following countries have been identified as having high-performance computing facilities, some as a result of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) partnership: Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zambia. More and more NRENs – especially the Level 6 NRENs (Algeria, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, and recently Zambia) – are exploring offering additional services; also in support of data sharing and transfer. The following NRENs already allow for running data-intensive applications and sharing of high-end computing assets, bio-modelling and computation on high-performance/supercomputers: KENET (Kenya), TENET (South Africa), RENU (Uganda), ZAMREN (Zambia), EUN (Egypt) and ARN (Algeria). Fifteen higher education training institutions from eight African countries (Botswana, Benin, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Sudan, and Tanzania) have been identified as offering formal courses on data science. In addition to formal degrees, a number of international short courses have been developed and free international online courses are also available as an option to build capacity and integrate as part of curricula. The small number of higher education or research intensive institutions offering data science is however insufficient, and there is a desperate need for more training in data science. The CODATA-RDA Schools of Research Data Science aim at addressing the continental need for foundational data skills across all disciplines, along with training conducted by The Carpentries programme (specifically Data Carpentry 10). Thus far, CODATA-RDA schools in collaboration with AOSP, integrating content from Data Carpentry, were presented in Rwanda (in 2018), and during 17-29 June 2019, in Ethiopia. Awareness regarding Open Science (including Open Data) is evident through the 12 Open Science-related Open Access/Open Data/Open Science declarations and agreements endorsed or signed by African governments; 200 Open Access journals from Africa registered on the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ); 174 Open Access institutional research repositories registered on openDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories); 33 Open Access/Open Science policies registered on ROARMAP (Registry of Open Access Repository Mandates and Policies); 24 data repositories registered with the Registry of Data Repositories (re3data.org) (although the pilot project identified 66 research data repositories); and one data repository assigned the CoreTrustSeal. Although this is a start, far more needs to be done to align African data curation and research practices with global standards. Funding to conduct research remains a challenge. African researchers mostly fund their own research, and there are little incentives for them to make their research and accompanying data sets openly accessible. Funding and peer recognition, along with an enabling research environment conducive for research, are regarded as major incentives. The landscape report concludes with a number of concerns towards sharing research data openly, as well as challenges in terms of Open Data policy, ICT infrastructure supportive of data sharing, capacity building, lack of skills, and the need for incentives. Although great progress has been made in terms of Open Science and Open Data practices, more awareness needs to be created and further advocacy efforts are required for buy-in from African governments. A federated African Open Science Platform (AOSP) will not only encourage more collaboration among researchers in addressing the SDGs, but it will also benefit the many stakeholders identified as part of the pilot phase. The time is now, for governments in Africa, to acknowledge the important role of science in general, but specifically Open Science and Open Data, through developing and aligning the relevant policies, investing in an ICT infrastructure conducive for data sharing through committing funding to making NRENs financially sustainable, incentivising open research practices by scientists, and creating opportunities for more scientists and stakeholders across all disciplines to be trained in data management.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17159/assaf.2019/0047
Publisher: Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
Sponsorship: Department of Science & Innovation (DSI); National Research Foundation (NRF)
Peer review status: Peer-Reviewed