Charter says Africa must ‘take wheel’ on research collaboration

Hundreds of universities invited to sign guidelines on equitable partnerships in science

July 7, 2023
The sun rises over Africa
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The launch of a new Africa-centred research collaboration charter will be the start of a movement towards a more equitable research ecosystem, its creators hope.

More than 400 universities across the world have been invited to sign up to the Africa Charter for Transformative Research Collaborations, which is billed as a set of principles for policy reform and a step change in international cooperation.

Launched in Windhoek, Namibia on 5 July, the initiative has been co-created by some of Africa’s major higher education bodies and facilitated by the Perivoli Africa Research Centre (Parc) at the University of Bristol in partnership with the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of South Africa (Unisa).

Over the coming months charter signatories will further develop a comprehensive plan with the aim of creating a “radically new approach to research collaboration” and a rebalancing of power in the generation of scientific knowledge.

Isabella Aboderin, Perivoli chair in Africa research and partnerships at Bristol, said the core ethos was simple: “The Global North must cede influence and space so Africa can take the wheel.

“The end goal is unashamedly ambitious, but the initiative recognises Global North-Africa research collaborations as a vital and viable entry point to help achieve this comprehensive shift.”

Professor Aboderin said the formal declarations would give the charter more impetus and that it was important to symbolise what is an “assertion of Africa’s demands” in this sphere.

Though “humbled” by the reception of the sector and its willingness to engage with the problem, she said there was still much more work to do to bring as many actors on board as possible.

“Windhoek is hopefully the start of a movement in some ways,” she said.

“It’s like giving birth to a child. We’ve had the labour – that’s been hard – and now we’ve given birth to it, the real work starts to raise this kid.”

Architects of the charter noted that central, east, southern and west Africa contributed less than 2 per cent of global scientific publications, despite being home to 10 per cent of the world’s adult population.

Similarly, they noted that African universities rarely featured near the top of global rankings and that a disproportionately small number of researchers and scientific publications in the world were African.

Their aim is to champion a reformed equitable way of working as standard and best practice, and to introduce an Africa-centred framework that sets out guiding principles and measures of success and accountability.

Puleng Segalo, Chief Albert Luthuli research chair at Unisa, said the charter signified a moment for Africa to assert its vision on how collaborations needed to unfold and in doing so recognised the power vested in the continent. 

“We acknowledge that, even though there’s been quite a lot of work done on equitable partnerships, most still focus mainly on the symptoms and not the core issues,” she said.

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