Category Archives: Africa

Africa’s Fight for Equality in Scientific Research

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Response to Article: Research: Africa’s fight for equality

Author: Linda Nordling

Date: 05 May 2015

Website link:  http://www.nature.com/news/research-africa-s-fight-for-equality-1.17486

Author: Janny Chang

The May 5th Nature article written by Linda Nordling brought the world’s attention to the landmark Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)-Wellcome Trust Research Programme case and raised a number of serious concerns.

First, it illuminated the impact of colonial legacy, still very much alive on the continent of Africa. This unequal legacy is deeply embedded in collaborations between international agencies and African scientists, who are often relegated to less visible positions. In Academic Cooperation with Africa: Lessons for Partnership in Higher Education, author Dieten Neubert alludes to the unequal power dynamic in North-South relationships. Neubert argues,

“The North tends to dominate the relationship, at least indirectly. Nearly all the funds either for teaching, research or for the support of African universities come form the North, in our case from Germany…In this constellation the African University often ends up in the role of a junior partner. Another inequality may put stress on a partnership. The salaries in Germany and Africa are obviously extremely uneven….The unequal payment is at least a potential threat for trustful cooperation (Neubert, 2008, p. 100).” [1]

Even in areas touting “international collaboration” such as global health science, this colonial legacy reared its ugly head.

Inequality

In a recent article, medical doctor Tamer M. Fouad reminds us of the startling facts. Africans account for 1.1 percent of the world’s scientific researchers and there are fewer than 5 million students of higher education in sub-Saharan African, a region with more than 1 billion people. Fouad reveals that for many international researchers, “collaboration” has become synonymous with publishing in well-known journals, which are almost exclusively found in Europe and the United States. This opportunistic behavior is often done at the expense of their African counterparts, whose data and samples they use, but fail to give proper credit. [2]

A consistent narrative of inequality between Western and African researchers also emerges in research on science in Africa. For example, a seminal book by anthropologist Johanna Taylor Crane titled Scrambling for Africa: AIDS, Expertise and the Rise of American Global Health Science corroborates this claim. Crane’s ethnography showed that American researchers had dual motivations in doing HIV research in Africa. Their humanitarian motivations were coupled with career opportunism to use African research to advance their own interests. Crane’s conclusion was that the years of burgeoning HIV/AIDS research was not only a time of hope for Africans, with the introduction of ARVs, but also the expansion for opportunities for some companies, doctors and scientific researchers from the West.

Crane’s close study of researchers at a rural clinic in Uganda also yielded some disturbing insights. She noted that many Uganda physicians involved in the research were not included as authors in publications and were often relegated to subordinate position of blood and other sample collectors. Africans in general were disproportionately asked to be test subjects. This is akin to the United States’ reprehensible history of using African Americans as disposable subjects in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in the 1930s, lasting for 40 years, and other patterns of experimental abuse of Blacks – all in the name of science. [3]

Politics of Citation

A second issue Nordling raised is the culture of “publish and perish” dominating science circles around the world. While sensitizing scientists in the West to collaborate on equal levels with their African counterparts may prevent inequalities, a larger systemic issue of a changing academia must be addressed. This involves the pressure to publish and only in a handful of prestigious journals.

The problems of citation practices and publication exclusivity have significant implications for African researchers. In fact, it has implications for all researchers at the periphery – women, minorities, and immigrants. The implication is that African researchers and those at the periphery are not given a fair chance to be published and recognized for their research. Because scientists are hired and awarded grants and fellowships based on publications in the top journals, African scientists and those at the periphery, with the exception of a super-star few, are less likely to be given a fair shot at establishing an international scientific career. What’s at stake is a true meritocratic system that awards scientists based on the quality and relevance of their research. What’s at stake is potentially life-changing knowledge that gets cast aside and ignored due to structural inequalities of the academic system.

Economic Barriers

This issue also prevents open access journals or African-based mega journals from leveling the playing field. As long as there are only a handful of top “luxury” journals that control access and direct resources to a  small percentage of research, mostly hailing from the West, it will take a long time for open access journals to gain the same level of prestige. In resource-poor countries, where training the next generation of young scientists is undermined by the lack of access to expensive journals, open access journals can make all the difference.

The economic barriers seem to exacerbate the already existing inequalities among researchers in the West and in Africa. However, there are solutions to these problems. They are not overnight fixes, but implemented over time, they can positively transform the situation.

Potential Solutions

One type of solution is offered by the Next Einstein Forum (NEF). The Global Gathering event held every two years is a global forum designed to level the playing field in science. The NEF places African researchers front and center, where they belong. The event will convene 500 of the most outstanding thinkers from Africa and around the world and feature 15 top young scientists from Africa.

The goal is to cultivate the next generation of African scientists and leaders who will be the ones to lead open access journals, mentor African students to pursue science, influence science policy and attitudes on the continent to fight and challenge the residue of the colonial past, conduct research that may win them the next Nobel prize, and create entrepreneurial projects that address the needs of the continent and advance new ways of thinking in frontier science.

To be sure, Nordling warns against overstating the gains made in Africa’s fight for equality. After all, there is much work to do. But one surefire way to make changes is to involve more partners and elicit funding on the part of African governments, individuals, institutions and companies. With more stakeholders on board in any scientific project, it limits the ability of any one group to dominate or exploit the others. Having strong support from African funders and governments also sends the signal to Western counterparts that they cannot disrespect local scientists without grave repercussions.

Making it widely known that they have the backing of strong actors renders the African researchers less vulnerable to being relegated to second-class status. Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, and Rwanda are success stories in this regard.

Furthermore, Forbes and other magazines have highlighted the rise of “billionaire philanthropists” in Africa [4]. Now is the time for African tycoons such as Ugandan Ashish Thakkar and Sudanese Mo Ibrahim, among others, to step in and make their voices heard in the international scientific communities. For example, Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa and Nigeria’s first billionaire, made an estimated $35 million donations to philanthropic endeavors in 2012. He could launch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket 583 times and fund an entire Jet Propulsion laboratory in Africa led by African scientists with that amount. 

With a cadre of supportive stakeholders in the scientific community, including commitment from African governments and institutions like NEF and AIMS, stellar scientists like the NEF Fellows, and buy-in from wealthy Africans, international institutions will be forced to shed neocolonialist attitudes and engage in genuinely equitable partnerships. Affected researchers may still have to struggle, as Zambian biochemist Kelly Chibale states in the Nature article, but they will have to struggle far less.

Footnotes:

[1]  Dieter Neubert, Academic Cooperation between Germany andd Africa – Challenges and some lessons learnt, in Academic Cooperation with Africa: Lessons for Partnership in Higher Education, eds. Eike W. Schamp, Stefan Schmid, (New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 2008), p. 100.

[2] Tamer M. Fouad, Ebola Outbreak Highlights Struggle for Science in Africa and Inequalities in Global Health Research, November 2014, http://www.doctorslounge.com/index.php/articles/page/51032.

[3] Denise Grady, White Doctors Black Subjects: Abuse Disguised as Research, Jan. 23, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/23/health/23book.html?_r=0

[4] Giving Back: The Face of Africa’s New Donors, April 5, 2015, http://www.ventures-africa.com/archives/41530

AFRICA RISING – FUTURE LEADERS: My Experiences as a Journalist by Charity Musa

Charity and I worked together at a Chinese telecommunications multi-national company in Zambia. Not only is she an astute business-person and a rising star in the company, she is also a professional journalist. She juggles it all, and very successfully! It is truly an honor to feature her story here on my blog as well as a sample article she wrote about a farmers’ workshop sponsored by USAID and Agritech Expo below.

My Name is Charity Musa, a Journalist from Zambia. I have been practicing Journalism since 2004. Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to become one because of the journalists I used to see on television. I guess I would say that I was fascinated by them.

During my childhood, I had a powerful fantasy of being a journalist and my role model was the famous Zambian journalist by the name of Maureen Nkandu. Whenever I would see her read the news on television, in my mind I would think, “I want to be like her” — an influential journalist.

I envisioned my future. I guess what they say in the famous Video ‘The Secret “Thoughts become Things” worked for me. “I BECAME.”

Writing stories has always been my passion because it brings me inner joy to my soul, I have always wanted to tell a story and be heard. When I do not write, I feel like something is missing and writing stories energizes me. I get excited like a little kid that is about to be given candy by her beloved aunt.

So let me tell you a little bit about my journalism experience, I worked for Zambia Daily as a part time journalist from 2004 until the beginning of 2008. While working there, I did my freelancing for Sila Press Botswana as well and I appreciated the experience because people in Botswana read stories about my beautiful Country Zambia.

And in 2006, I did a Southern African Media Training Trust (NSJ) journalism exchange programme with Namibia Press Agency (NAMPA) and I did an internship with New Era Newspaper for two weeks. It was a great experience. I got to learn more from the famous Veteran journalist who hailed from Zimbabwe, the Late Farai Munyuki, who was in charge of the programme at NAMPA for the Journalists from different African countries.

After 2008, I freelanced for UKZAMBIANS magazine writing mostly entertainment Stories and wrote a few articles for Huawei People Magazine and The Post Newspaper.

While I was working part time for Zambia Daily, I was trained by the best journalists like the Late Nigel Mulenga, Newton Sibanda, Joy Sata and Steven Phiri, who made sure I wrote stories well.

Nigel made sure I had a first lead story in the paper. I was so excited and honored. Here I am, a part-time journalist working for this National Newspaper. I wrote a lead crime story, which was read by millions of people that day. I like to imagine that more than a million read the article. After all, we can always dream, as we are so great at fulfilling our dreams through our visions.

That day was one of the most exciting days of my Journalism Life! Subsequently, I had the privilege of covering the Late Zambian President Dr Levy Mwanawasa. Can you imagine how I felt, a junior reporter being tasked to cover the President of Zambia? Those assignments were usually given to senior journalists with more Experience, but they trusted me enough with my colleague Barbara Mukuka to do the assignment and we did it with perfection. I think we wrote better articles than any other media outlets that day!

In conclusion, I would say, writing keeps me sane and happy, as it makes my mind more active and creative. I cannot imagine myself living a life without ever penning down a story because am very passionate about it and I believe that I make a difference with this passion.

Finally, below, I have included a sample article that I wrote about a farmers’ workshop held by USAID and Agritech Expo. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me via email: charitymusa@hotmail.com.

AGRITECH EXPO AND USAID TO HOLD EMERGING FARMERS’ WORKSHOP IN ZAMBIA

By Charity Musa

US. Agency for International Development (USAID) says Zambia is becoming a real hub for emerging commercial agriculture in southern region.

Due to its commercial agricultural sector development, Agritech Expo in conjunction with USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub is holding an agriculture Expo in Zambia.

USAID Southern Africa Trade Hub Director of Agriculture Robert Turner said in a statement that the two- day free technical workshop programme will take place at GART research centre in Chisamba, Zambia from 4th to 5th April 2014.

Mr Turner said about 50 emerging commercial farmers from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique are expected to attend the workshop.

He further said the workshop was designed particularly for small holders and emerging commercial farmers to provide them with the basic information and context to better understand the technologies that would be available and on display during the workshops.

According to Mr Turner, “the Southern Africa Trade Hub is part of the US government’s Feed the Future Strategy, and our focus is both on the competitiveness of regional agriculture and on food security. As part of Feed the Future, the US government is focusing support on the following countries under the Trade Hub’s umbrella: Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. In all three of these countries, small holder farmers make up the majority of staple food production, but they all suffer from very low productivity. Our support to the Agritech Expo is part of the Trade Hub’s regional approach to improving productivity among emerging commercial farmers and small holders.”

Mr Turner said it was important for the farmers to attend the workshop for them to adopt new agriculture technology.

“This includes improved seeds, fertilisers and mechanisation, and the Agritech Expo represents a sustainable, commercial mechanism to allow farmers access to these technologies. Because of Zambia’s commercial agricultural sector development, a wide range of companies representing a range of important technologies will be at the show. These technologies and services are needed throughout the region, and we want to support the show to be a regional resource.” He said.

Most of the emerging farmers, from the three countries, that have already signed up for the programme where eager to broaden their knowledge and make contacts at the Agritech Expo in April.

   

China-Africa Knowledge Project Resource Hub

I just received some exciting news about a new project that will benefit researchers and practitioners working on the China-Africa relationship. The China-Africa Knowledge Project was started in June 2013 and includes the China-Africa Knowledge Project Resource Hub, a website that connects scholars across disciplines and regions working on China-African relations. 

The Social Science Research Council states that  “in this initial phase, the CAKP Hub provides information on research centers and institutions working in the China-Africa space, features key researchers and their work, maintains a rolling list of useful online resources, and collects information on upcoming conferences, calls for papers, and other happenings. As host to the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network, it also widens the reach of existing cross-regional communities. In due course, the hub will offer a database of China-Africa scholars, a moderated digital forum for timely discussion of China-Africa events and findings, and a virtual research forum for graduate students.”

The CAKP will create programs and activities related to the Working Group on China-Africa, the Chinese in Africa/Africans in China Research Network and China, Africa and the UN. The Working Group members consist of a talented group of leading scholars, whose research have greatly informed my own work. 

The project is funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, with support from the SSRC’s Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum. 



 

AFRICA RISING – FUTURE LEADERS: My I.T. Aspirations by Thabale Ngulube

My good friend Thabale wanted to introduce himself on my blog. We worked together in 2012 in Kitwe, Zambia, where I was conducting research and working for a Zambian-owned mining construction firm. Thabale is a skilled website programmer and worked for a popular company that assisted us with website design, among other tasks. It truly is an honor to feature his story on my blog.

Thabale Ngulube: I’ve loved Information Technology from a very young age and have always believed it to be the “future”. I first started learning  I.T at ZCAS (Zambia Centre for Accountancy Studies) where I did IMIS (Institute for the Management of Information Systems) and worked for almost 4 years mainly doing data management at CHESSORE (Centre for Health, Science and Social Research) and sometime later worked for Talktime Multimedia were I mostly did web page designing and some office administration.
Currently I’m studying BIT (Business Information Technology) and hope to become a software developer so can fully grasp Application Development and I have a few ideas of how I can contribute to the development of my country by mainly streamlining how things are done. One time I helped design a prototype database for storing hospital patient records which basically was computerising the input and storage of data thereby, minimising the paperwork needed for the same task and saving costs in terms of stationery but unfortunately I didn’t get to fully finish it as my work contract was expiring. Now that I’m working with fellow students, I have encountered many inspiring ideas like for example one of my friends wants to do a food management system which could assist his mum run her business more efficiently. He’s thinking of developing a tuck-shop software program to calculate: 
Management of activities mostly involving 
Keeping track of profits 
Inventory checks to ensure the accurate number of items in stock
Knowing the amount of ingredients used in making foodstuffs
Sales for future projection and therefore limit uncertainties on the direction of the business
I was thinking about the tenant – landlord relationship which can be quite rocky at times especially in low cost urban areas especially it comes to paying up and what the exact amount owing is. I thought of building an app which can send monthly reminders to tenants to automatically alert them in good time to make the necessary arrangements to pay up their rents with the stated due amounts and would also allow for mobile-payments if the tenant happens to be away. However, on this side of the world smartphones are out of the cost range of most people who would probably utilise 3% of the phone’s capabilities and therefore see it unnecessary owning one. 
But the same app could still be developed on the already existing cell phone platform. Tenants can be reminded via the SMS facility which a lot of people are familiar with. The challenge is that not everyone is well-educated or literate as in, they are unable to read or write properly. In order to overcome this problem, I’d recommend a voice-messaging approach in a local language which the person can understand. Much like the way how the mobile service provider, MTN for example, currently sends random special offers to their subscribers using this technique by calling the subscriber.
Another situation I hope to address is the agriculture sector when it comes to fertilizer distribution by the government or some farming cooperative. Most of the time when farmers come to get their bags of fertilizer they have to wait many hours or even days when making follow-ups which mostly leads to them sleeping over at depots or other places longer than they have to.
Again I’d propose the SMS-alert app which would select registered farmers in a batch-processing technique so that the number of people coming over is controlled and farmers can make the necessary arrangements. For those that cannot manage to make it on the expected day, they will be carried forward to a free pickup time-slot after the second batch of farmers is dealt with and so on.
The challenge I see here is how these small scale farmers will reach the pickup point because most of them stay in far flung areas where transportation is difficult in terms of distance. As a result most of them may come late only to be told to turn back because they missed their slot. Also, mobile phone network coverage in some of these places is non-existent and these farmers may get their SMS alert when they move to where there’s a signal and by then it may be too late.
This is possibly the area Chinese investment can address in terms of I.T. infrastructure i.e. platforms  and equipment which will enable communications instead of retail businesses which have flooded the market. However, that may not eliminate the problem fully because there’s also the issue of I.T education because most people here feel intimidated by I.T technology when they don’t understand how it works or how they can benefit. There are places offering I.T knowledge but he way how its marketed usually does not take into account the common man who doesn’t live in the posh suburbs.
Another one of my friends’ hope that one day when he’s started his own firm, he’ll give back to his community in the form of Corporate Social Responsibility with the aim of educating and empowering people to reach their full potential. If I.T investment is made a priority, Zambia could be a technological wonder much in the same way South Korea is. Obviously that won’t happen overnight but like everything that has a beginning, things have to start somewhere with the first step.

Civil Society, the State, and Sino-African Relations

“Sino-African Relations: Reflections on Civil Society Engagement” by Antony Otieno Ong’ayo in Chinese and African Perspectives on China in Africa (2010)

I agree with Ong’ayo’s point about what the role of academics should be in discussing China and African relations: “Academia’s role would therefore be to underpin the understanding of the socio-political and economic problems facing both Africa and China and combined with civil society’s input would provide a formidable challenge to the hegemony of global capital and the political elites overseeing its operations” (239). Civil society can be a conduit for democracy and leverage against state forces; whoever, as the author demonstrates,there are also ways in which civil society has been linked with a neoliberal agenda.

In One Zambia, Many Histories, Mulenga contends that trade unions have been weakened from 1964 to 1991 due to economic liberalization policies that targeted 280 parastatals for privatization. The impact of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) on the labor market has been “devastating”. Factors that have been attributed to the decline of unions elsewhere (in various Asian countries) include the small size of organized industrial labor force, relatively low education of the labor force and legislation that counters single bargaining agents inside firms. The Zambian Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) founded in 1965, which was led by former president Fredrick Chiluba, was weakened due to government suppression. When the organization resisted the government, Kaunda’s response was to shift from support to repression; in 1982, Chiluba and 16 other trade union members were imprisoned. After Chiluba came to power, a similar pattern ensued, with the further weakening of unions as a result of government suppression.

As the article points out, the weakening of civil society, particularly trade unions, can be attributed to government’s role in restricting them and also coopting strong labor leaders into the government system. There were 250,000 total union membership in 2001. After SAPs, which caused great harm to civil society, membership dwindled to half. Efforts at union organizing has also been frustrated through the increasing casualization of labor. However, Miles Larmer notes the revival of labor movements and argues that there is great potential for future mass mobilization. Despite varying degrees of strength of civil society elements, they are significant in fostering more equitable and therefore, less neoliberal relations between the Chinese and their African partners.

Ong’ayo maintains that a dialogue on China-African relations must include civil society on both the Chinese and African side. This includes knowledge of working conditions and exploitation in export processing zones (EPZs), human rights violations in work environments and threats to human security on China. Due to this lack of knowledge, the author argues, African civil society organizations and academics might overlook ways in which civil society might intervene as “an autonomous counterbalance to the state” (234). Possible interventions may take on the form of transnational alliances and activist coalitions around the world. Collaboration is imperative to prevent the state from dominating policy processes (239). Scholars should conduct research on the impact of Chinese investments, including “labor and human rights issues, on the impact of Sino-African agreements on African governments’ ability to deliver development and on the broader socio-economic and environmental impacts of Chinese investment in Africa” (240).

Another solution Ong’ayo posits, which I find exciting, is the possibility of building a database of current policy in China and individual African countries to document current and encourage future in-depth analysis. This would require collaboration among scholars around the world working on this topic and joint efforts with their civil society counterparts.

India’s Engagements in Africa

Sanusha Naidu’s informative article in A Scramble for Africa delineates deepening involvement in resource extraction, entrepreneurial activities, diplomatic initiatives and strategic alliances.

According to Naidu, India is expected by 2030 to become the world’s third largest consumer of energy, surpassing Japan and Russia. Africa, particularly Nigeria, supplies 11 percent of India’s oil demands. Much of India’s involvement in Africa has been overshadowed by the Chinese, but it is quite apparent from Naidu’s discussion that it is a key player. For example, India’s national oil corporations are dispersed throughout the continent. In Cote d’Ivoire, a conglomerate of various Indian companies have invested over $1 billion. In Nigeria, the National Thermal Power Corporation has invested $1.7 billion, the Indian Oil Corporation $3.5 billion in oil refinery and $2 to $4 billion in liquefied natural gas plant and oil refinery. In Sudan, Videocon Group has invested $100 million.

Indian companies have also become involved in uranium exploration. Naidu mentions that in 2007, the government of Niger provided 23 permits to 3 Canadian firms, 3 British firms and an Indian company named Taurian Resources to excavate uranium in the country. In total, the firms invested $55 million.

In 2008, the outcome of an India-Africa summit included agreements that outlined commitments by the Indian government to provide $500 million in development projects across Africa in the next five years, creating an India-Africa peace corps dedicated to development projects, and doubling trade from $25 t0 $50 billion by 2011. Indian companies have assumed a significant presence in Zambia, with Vendanta Resources investing $750 million in copper mining. The Tata group also operates widely on the continent, committing to $800 million renovation of the Taj Pamodji Hotel in Lusaka, a vehicle assembly plant in Zambia, construction of a $12 million instant coffee processing plant in Uganda and more projects in Ghana, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania.

Naidu argues that the Indian government is strategically presenting itself as an advocate of Africa with comparable presence to China with a similar aim of exploiting Africa’s resources for its own economic development.