Scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa in the twenty-first century
First Monday

Scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa in the twenty-first century: Challenges and opportunities by Ezra Ondari-Okemwa

A free flow of ideas and information is vital to the process of scientific inquiry, and in turn to the ability to address economic, environmental and social development issues both in the sub–Saharan Africa region and globally. Most of the challenges facing scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa are global and do not respect national boundaries. Scholarly publishing enables research findings of scholars to cross international boundaries to provide strong, positive connections between individual scholars, institutions and nations. Such exchanges contribute to the expansion of the global knowledge base to which the sub–Saharan Africa region is linked. Participation in the global arena through scholarly communication may enable the sub–Saharan Africa region to have access to knowledge and information it needs to succeed in the global economy that is being digitized rapidly. Scholarly publishing is as a result of research and innovation which may improve the quality of knowledge and information produced by scholars in the sub–Saharan Africa region. This paper explores the challenges and opportunities of scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa in the twenty–first century. The paper also proposes ways of capitalising on the vast opportunities of enhancing knowledge production and dissemination in sub–Saharan Africa through scholarly publishing in the twenty–first century. An analysis of publication records of sub–Saharan Africa between 1997 and 2007 in the Thompson Scientific was conducted. There are many challenges confronting scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa. The challenges include technological, socio–political, economic and environmental. The twenty–first century brings with it opportunities that may enhance sub–Saharan Africa’s visibility of scholarly publishing.


Scholarly publishing
Sub–Saharan Africa
Purpose of this study
Results and discussion
Challenges of scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa




Sub–Saharan Africa has a low scholarly publishing rate when compared to other regions, both developed and developing (Hassan, 2001). Scientific research, which in most cases results in scholarly publishing, also lags behind in sub–Saharan Africa (World Bank, 2005). Put together, this may be interpreted to mean a declining global competitiveness of sub–Saharan African science as a whole, hence a structural problem in the regional system of innovation. Economic growth in the modern era has been grounded on the exploitation of scientific knowledge (Dasgupta and David, 1994). Scholarly publishing is considered the norm for disseminating and validating research results and is also crucial for career advancement in most academic fields. Data on scholarly publication by country or region provide an indication of the knowledge production and research capacity of that country or region. A low scholarly publication rate in sub–Saharan Africa suggests a problem of knowledge diffusion for the region and possibly low knowledge generation.



Scholarly publishing

Scholarly publishing is mostly associated with scholars that teach and/or conduct research in institutions of higher learning and other institutions of research. Castells (2004) looks at the university as being critical for the generation of knowledge, technological innovation and the development of human resources. Scholarly publishing normally refers to published research output of the higher education sub–sector as well as that of government and science councils (De Beer, 2005). Some corporations in the private sector are also involved in research and publication. Maher (2006) argues that when a research university decides to hire or promote a faculty member, the university has to make sure it is hiring or promoting a very good scholar and a person who will do a very good job in both research and instruction of students. Maher further argues that those evaluations of a good scholar are not easily separable from the evaluations of the quality of the scholarship in journals, given that it is the scholarship that the particular faculty member puts into journals that will give the best measure of how that faculty member is contributing. The four main parties usually involved in scholarly publishing are scholars, editors, publishers and subscribers. Large academic and/or research institutions are the major subscribers of scholarly publications.

In the twenty–first century, scholarly publishing should be expected to serve the purpose of disseminating knowledge besides the traditional purposes of communicating results of research and enabling scholars to keep abreast of the latest developments in their disciplines or sub–disciplines. Scholars seeking promotions are also evaluated on the strength of the number of scholarly articles they have published and the reputation of the journals in which they publish their research findings. Journal rankings may also be used by university authorities to gauge the progress and impact of faculty members. World university rankings also take into account the number of articles published by faculty members of each university.

Scholarly publishing is an important manifestation of knowledge generation and diffusion (De Beer, 2005). The United Nations Institute of Statistics’ (UIS) Bulletin on Science and Technology Statistics (UIS, 2005) indicates that the whole of Africa represents 1.4 percent of the world scholarly publications in 2000. However, scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa is faced with challenges in the twenty–first Century. Scholarly publishing does not have a long history in sub–Saharan Africa and the larger African continent. Journals have been largely acknowledged by scholars as the most effective means of disseminating scholarly research findings. Even though journals have been around for the last three centuries, the history of scholarly publishing and journals in sub–Saharan Africa largely dates to the second half of the twentieth century. The twenty–first century also brings with it technological, political, social–economic challenges that scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa must contend with. Challenges aside, the twenty–first century is also expected to present numerous opportunities to the scholarly publishing fraternity in the sub–Saharan Africa region. Information and communication technologies are poised to make digital access to scholarly resources more easily accessible. Digital publishing, preservation of information and fast access to scholarly resources are all being made possible by new developments in information and communication technologies.

Several development indicators (World Development Report, World Competitiveness Yearbook, and the Technology Achievement Index) do not paint a rosy picture of social economic and technological development in sub–Saharan Africa. Castells (1998) describes the economic, political and social decline in sub–Saharan Africa during the rise of information/global economy. Castells attributes the exclusion of sub–Saharan Africa from the information/global economy to three major factors:

  • Unreliable institutional environment;
  • Lack of production and communication infrastructure; and,
  • Erroneous economic policies.

Castells (1998) further describes Africa’s “technological apartheid” as due to low computer and Internet penetration and due to lack of a fundamental precursor to computerised networks, namely electricity. He also discusses how the Internet:

“is the technological tool and organizational form that distributes information power, knowledge generation, and networking capacity in all realms of activity. Thus, developing countries are caught in a tangled web. On the one hand, being disconnected, or superficially connected, to the Internet is tantamount to marginalization in the global networked system. Development without the Internet would be equivalent of industrialization without electricity in the industrial era.” [1]

The Internet has been credited not only for distributing information power and generation of knowledge, but also for storing large amounts of information and knowledge. However, this is only possible where there is ubiquitous computing, embedded networking and pervasive Internet. In sub–Saharan Africa, the presence of the Internet is still extremely low.



Sub–Saharan Africa

A brief background of the region referred to as sub–Saharan Africa is in order. Sub–Saharan Africa refers to the countries of the African continent south of the Sahara desert. Geographically, the demarcation line is the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Some countries such as Chad, Mali, Sudan, Niger and Mauritania belong both to the Saharan desert region and sub–Saharan Africa region.


Figure 1: A map showing the boundaries of sub-Saharan Africa, south of the Sahara Desert

Figure 1: A map showing the boundaries of sub–Saharan Africa — South of the Sahara Desert.


Sub-Saharan Africa is made up of 48 independent nations, 42 of which are located on the mainland and six are island nations (see Table 1 below). The island nations include Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe. In some quarters, Mauritius is generally not considered a sub–Saharan island nation as the ethnic make up of the country is predominantly East Indian, Chinese and French. However, it is always counted as one of the sub–Saharan African countries.


Table 1: Nations of sub–Saharan Africa
Central AfricaEast AfricaSouthern AfricaWest AfricaIsland nations
BurundiDjiboutiAngolaBeninCape Verde
Central African RepublicEritreaBotswanaBurkina FasoComoros
Democratic Republic of the CongoEthiopiaLesothoCameroonMadagascar
Republic of the CongoKenyaMalawiChadMauritius
RwandaSomaliaMozambiqueCôte d’IvoireSao Tome and Principe
 SudanNamibiaEquatorial GuineaSeychelles
TanzaniaSouth AfricaGabon 
UgandaSwazilandThe Gambia
 Guinea Bissau
Sierra Leone


The sub–Saharan region has an estimated population of about 800 million. Some countries in the region are very large with large populations. Nigeria for example has a population in the region of 140 million. Some other countries are small with populations not exceeding 500,000. Cape Verde has an estimated population of 420,979. Djibouti has an estimated population of 486,530. Sub–Saharan Africa is classified as the poorest region of the world. Development agencies describe the region as collectively suffering from the legacies of native corruption, interethnic conflicts, overall ignorance of indigenous populations, violence and perpetual political strive. Life expectance in sub–Saharan Africa is probably the lowest in the world. The region is well endowed with natural resources but still lags behind in economic development. Literacy rates are low, medical care low and technological development lags behind other regions of the world.



Purpose of this study

This study examined scholarly publications produced by scholars in sub–Saharan Africa between 1997 and 2007. The author saw the study period as being the most productive decade of scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa, when the region recorded its highest scholarly output. Another reason for selecting this period was that part of the decade falls in the twenty–first century. This study may also serve as an indicator of the contribution of the region to overall world production and generation of knowledge. This study examines scholarly publications in sub–Saharan Africa and outlines various challenges that the region faces in this arena. Hence, this study was conducted to determine:

  • the role that scholarly publishing may play in generating and sharing knowledge in sub–Saharan Africa;
  • the challenges of scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa;
  • causes of the challenges of the challenges of scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa in the twenty–first century; and,
  • ways of capitalizing on the vast opportunities of enhancing knowledge production and dissemination in sub–Saharan Africa through scholarly publishing in the twenty–first century.




Information on scholarly publishing in sub-Saharan Africa between 1997 and 2007 was extracted from the Science Citation Index (SCI), Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) and Arts and Humanities Citation Index (A&HCI). Publications authored by citizens of sub–Saharan Africa residing elsewhere were excluded. Information on scholarly publishing in countries from other regions of the world was extracted from the same sources for only 2006. The year 2006 was selected because it was the most productive year of scientific publications in most of the sub–Saharan African countries. Countries from other regions that were randomly selected for comparison purposes included Israel, Russia, South Korea, China, India and Japan from Asia. Canada, Mexico and the U.S. were selected from North America and Brazil was selected from South America. England, Germany, Russia and France were selected from Europe.

Three approaches were used to determine the number of scholarly publications in sub–Saharan Africa between 1997 and 2007 as follows:

  1. All records of scholarly publications of every country in sub–Saharan Africa between 1997 were retrieved. The search was conducted by using “AD= name of country.” AD in the Science Citation Index denotes institutional address given by the author of the scholarly publication. Another alternative of determining scholarly publications of a specific country was that of using “CU= name of country.” CU denotes a country and this gives the number of publications recorded in a specific country within a specific period of time. In this case, the period of publication records for all sub–Saharan Africa countries was 1997 to 2007. Some countries were found to have insignificant numbers of scholarly publications between 1997 and 2007. Twenty–eight countries with 235 records were selected for analysis (cf. Table 2 below). Two hundred and thirty–five was considered a reasonable number of records. Other countries had very insignificant records of publications for the period 1997–2007.

  2. An advance search using “AD= country name” was conducted to obtain scholarly publications of only those countries which had at least 235 records or more between 1997 and 2007. An analysis of the identified records using ISI’s “Analyze” feature was conducted for every country selected for having 235 or more records of scholarly publications between 1997 and 2007 as shown in Table 2 below.

  3. The records were then downloaded and saved as .txt computer files and analyzed in order to determine scholarly publications of every country that was selected.



Results and discussion

It is clear that suby–Saharan Africa lags behind in scholarly publishing and it is likely to lag behind in the twenty–first century. There can be no comparison scholarly publications produced in the whole of sub–Saharan Africa in ten years and those produced in the U.S. in a single year. Consequently, there is no comparison of knowledge production between the whole of sub–Saharan Africa and the U.S. which had upward of 100,000 records of scholarly publications in 2006 alone, or the United Kingdom which had 97,904 scholarly publications in the same year. For the period stretching between 1997 and 2007, South Africa leads in scholarly publication records for the region with 51,738 records. This is about half the scholarly publications produced in the U.S. in 2006 alone. Nigeria and Kenya have 9,540 and 6,661 records respectively for the period 1997 to 2007. The Democratic Republic of Congo has 235 scholarly publications for the period between 1997 and 2007, and the rest of the countries in the sub–Saharan region have very few scholarly publications recorded by ISI in the same period. It is important to note that these records of scholarly publications from sub–Saharan Africa may not be absolute and can only serve as an indication of scholarly publishing records of the region for the study period. Some scholarly publications from sub–Saharan Africa are published in journals not indexed by ISI. These results demonstrate that there are several challenges confronting scholarly publishing, and therefore knowledge production, in sub–Saharan Africa. What are these challenges?


Table 2: Countries with 235 records or more between 1997 and 2007
Note: Based on publication records in Thompson Scientific as of May 2007.
South Africa4568461347594609473250494974539556576305107751738
Burkina Faso6890827895108135138127175311127
The Gambia81546769827782867811314803
DR Congo462221291113211728189235


In turn, a search was conducted to compare the number of scholarly publications between sub–Saharan Africa as a region and certain selected countries. Scholarly publications of one year (2006) were analyzed from the selected countries of other regions of the world. The countries were selected from various regions — developed and developing and the results were as shown in Table 3 below.


Table 3: Comparison of scholarly output, 2006
CountryRegionNumber of scholarly publications
United StatesNorth America>100,000
CanadaNorth America59,271
South KoreaAsia31,268
BrazilSouth America21,450
IsraelMiddle East15,564
MexicoNorth America10,948




Challenges of scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa

All along, scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa has faced a number of challenges. It is early in the twenty–first century and the challenges that have always confronted scholarly publishing and knowledge production in sub–Saharan Africa do not seem like they will go away in the near future. Very broadly, technology, socio–political factors, environmental and economic factors and changing trends lead in imposing challenges on scholarly publishing and knowledge production in the region.

Economic–related challenges

A majority of the challenges facing scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa emanate from economic factors. Many scholars work in institutions which are not financially well endowed. In such institutions, research facilities are inadequate and outdated by international standards. Libraries of institutions of higher learning and other research institutes are poorly funded and continue to experience budgetary cuts every year. A well–stocked library is an important resource for scholarly publishing. In industrialized nations, a network of libraries account for up to 80 percent of the total purchases of scholarly books (Altbach, 1978). In sub–Saharan Africa, there are no well organized networks of libraries which may jointly purchase scholarly books. Because of poor funding and continuous budget cuts, the libraries in the region cannot afford to subscribe journals.

Lor and Britz (2005) argue that the nature of knowledge is that it has to be created cumulatively, meaning that access to information is required to create new knowledge. For the case of scholars in sub–Saharan Africa, even very basic journal titles required for teaching and course work are hardly available. Libraries affiliated to institutions of higher education and other research institutions in sub–Saharan Africa are generally cancelling journal titles rather than acquiring new titles. Book shelves of most academic libraries in sub–Saharan Africa contain out–dated copies of books which cannot help scholars make any meaningful scientific and scholarly progress.

Scientists depend on laboratories to conduct experiments in order to generate findings for eventual publication. However, laboratories in sub–Saharan Africa lack up–to–date research facilities for conducting research. Laboratories also are subjected to budget cuts every year. Hence, a lack of well–equipped laboratories contributes to fewer scientific results. Waast (2002) reported that some countries in sub–Saharan Africa, such as Nigeria, have regressed in many fields of science. In other countries in the region, whole areas of expertise have virtually disappeared, such as experts in the agricultural sciences in Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire.

Scholarly journals, books and the Internet may be seen as vital sources for research. The sheer lack of scholarly journals and books as well as nominally equipped science laboratories and a lack of access to the Internet makes it hard for researchers to make scientific and scholarly progress by building on the contributions of others. Internet connectivity is particularly very poor in much of the region. Institutions in which scholars are employed find it difficult to maintain Internet connectivity. Either the Internet connections are too costly for academic institutions to maintain, or the electrical supply is poor and unreliable. Very few institutions of higher learning in the region enable scholars to have free and unlimited access to the Internet.

Lack of incentives

The major centres of knowledge creation and scholarly communication in Africa are universities (Teferra, 2004). However, most universities in Africa have many problems that constrain knowledge productivity and scholarly publishing. Research funding is almost non–existent; many universities in the region have seen enrollment of students escalating while emoluments of faculty members and researchers have remained stagnant over a long period of time. Scholars publish for several reasons and one of the major reasons is that of earning promotions and tenure. However, good incentives can also persuade scholars to publish in scholarly journals. Institutions of higher learning in sub–Saharan Africa, which are the major employers of scholars in the region, do not provide incentives to scholars to publish in scholarly journals.

South Africa’s Department of Education provides some incentives to scholars who publish in journals which the department has accredited for purposes of subsidy. There are currently 253 South African journals recognized by South Africa’s Department of Education as meeting the minimum requirements for state subsidy under the policy of rewarding academics who publish in these outlets (Tijssen, 2007). The South African Department of Education also recognises several other journals published elsewhere for the purpose of subsidy. Scholarly journals are expected to fulfill a number of minimum requirements as criteria in order to be eligible for inclusion in the list of approved journals [2]. Among the requirements are:

  • The purpose of the journal must be to disseminate research results;
  • The content must support high level learning, teaching and research in the relevant subject area;
  • The journal must have an editorial board that includes members beyond a single institution; and,
  • The journal must be reflective of expertise in the relevant subject area.

Most of the journals recognised by the Department of Education are indexed by the ISI in its citation indexes (Science Citation Index, Social Science Citation Index, and Arts and Humanities Index).

Good remuneration and other monetary rewards for scholars are incentives, but there are other incentives which can create an enabling environment for scholarly publishing. For example, maintaining the best infrastructure that institutions of higher learning should have and maintaining the prestige and comfort associated with higher education can be an important incentive for scholars in sub–Saharan Africa. Such incentives can enable scholars not only to desire to publish, but also to add to the body of knowledge. Sabbatical leave, which is meant to ensure that scholars have time and attention for research and interaction with their counterparts from other regions of the world, is not easily facilitated in the institutions of learning based in sub–Saharan Africa. The reason for the absence of all these incentives is lack of adequate financing.

Non–participation in scholarly conferences

Numerous academic conferences are organized around the globe every year. Attending such conferences is crucial for scholars working for institutions of higher learning and other research institutions in sub–Saharan Africa. Some of the conferences are organized locally or within the region, but many scholars from the region cannot attend, either because they cannot afford fees and travel costs, or their employers cannot afford to sponsor them. In conferences, scholars have an opportunity to present their research findings to their peers, especially those from other regions of the world. These research findings may eventually be published either as conference proceedings or as articles in scholarly journals. Scholars in sub–Saharan Africa find it too costly to sponsor themselves to such conferences and their institutions do not usually give any support. Even conferences organized locally or within the region are out of reach for most scholars in sub–Saharan Africa. Institutions of higher learning in the region should do everything possible to enable scholars to attend conferences organized locally, regionally and internationally. Attendance of such conferences allows scholars to understand the current paradigms in their various areas of research.

Brain drain

Because of the poor working conditions in the institutions of higher learning in sub–Saharan Africa, the region has experienced a mass exodus of scholars to academic institutions in a variety of countries. Scholars educated and trained by governments in the sub–Saharan region have been migrating to North America, Europe, and Australia, New Zealand, the Arabic oil–rich countries, and lately to Japan. It is ironic that the sub–Saharan countries can develop but cannot preserve local intellectual capital (Ondari–Okemwa, 2004). Reasons for this brain drain include low and eroding wages and salaries, unsatisfactory living conditions, social unrest, political conflicts and wars and declining quality of educational systems. Other reasons which encourage scholars to migrate include lack of research and other facilities, inadequacy of research funds and lack of professional equipment and tools. Scholars whose origin is sub–Saharan Africa but who reside in foreign countries may not be counted on to contribute to scholarly publishing in the region. This brain drain of scholars and other highly qualified professionals from the region will continue as long as conditions in the region do not improve.

Mazrui (2005) argues that as the origins of modern black intellectual traditions and those of Pan–Africanism intertwined, African “intellectuals and educated minds” have the capacity to conceive and construct an alternative social paradigm. Mazrui is a prominent Kenyan scholar who lives and works in the U.S. Zeleza (2005) argues that the academic African Diaspora plays and can play a role in African knowledge production. His argument is based on the premise that in general, the contemporary Diaspora, in particular its intelligentsia (just like the historical Diaspora through the Pan–African movement), has the potential for productive and progressive engagement with Africa.

Governments in sub–Saharan Africa have the ability to address most if not all of these unfavourable conditions which make scholars to migrate to other regions. Remunerations for academics in the region can be improved even though they may not match those of academics in developed countries. Many sub–Saharan African countries, such as Nigeria, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Botswana, are well endowed with natural resources, which if well managed can generate tremendous revenues, which can be used to improve remunerations of indigenous scholars and other highly qualified professionals. Such revenues can also be used to equip libraries and laboratories, which scholars use for research and generation of new knowledge.

Language challenges

Language is the vehicle for scholarly communication (Jaygbay, 1998). In sub–Saharan Africa, the official languages of scholarly communication are English, French and Portuguese, all of which are not thoroughly mastered by majority of the scholars in the region. Language of scholarly communication may not look like a major problem, but Jaygbay thinks it excludes half of the African population from participating in most official public discussions. In sub–Saharan Africa, nearly all of the countries use English and French as their official languages of communication. Only Angola and Mozambique use Portuguese. Most scholars in the region adopt English, French and Portuguese as their second languages. Scholars are expected to communicate in languages that most of them did not grow up speaking. Considerations like grammar may lead to rejection of manuscripts from scholars in the region (Pearce, 2003). Such manuscripts may contribute to scholarship but if they are rejected on account of language, they will not have a chance to earn any academic recognition. It may take a patient journal editor to realise that manuscripts from scholars in sub–Saharan Africa may have a few language problems, but that should not mean that scholars from the region may not contribute to scholarship in different disciplines.

Some widely indigenous languages in sub–Saharan Africa should be considered for scholarly communication by African scholars. Kiswahili is a widely spoken language in East, Central and some parts of southern Africa. However, even scholarly works on the Kiswahili language are published in other languages. Afrikaans was widely spoken in South Africa, but from 1994 when the country held its first multi–party elections, the language has been used less and less. The language was promoted by white South Africans and people of other races in the country saw it as a language of the oppression used by the former oppressors. Up to this day, some scholars in South Africa and Namibia publish in Afrikaans, but only in journals based in South Africa.

Technological challenges

Electronic journals have now become important avenues for knowledge transfer and scholarly communication. Scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa could benefit from electronic publishing but the countries in the region lack the technological capability to support electronic knowledge transfer and scholarly publishing. Information and communication technologies in sub–Saharan Africa are still under–developed and may not be relied on to support access to electronic journals and electronic publishing. The technological challenges in sub–Saharan Africa are similar across the African region. Ahwireng–Obeing (2000) thinks that Africa is a “technological wilderness,” peripheral to the knowledge revolution, the convulsive impact of which is only felt in the continent.

Because of technological challenges, Internet connectivity in sub–Saharan Africa is poor and non–existent in some parts of the region. Many universities in the region cannot afford continuous Internet connectivity. Internet connectivity requires a reliable telecommunications infrastructure and the state of telecommunications in the region is less than reliable. Many fixed telephone lines are owned by government corporations which are not necessarily efficient. The World Bank has financed quite a number of information technology projects in Africa over many years, but still the state of information and communication technologies in the region is not very impressive.

Knowledge production and consumption in institutions of higher learning and other research institutions in sub–Saharan Africa will remain low even in this century if there are not improvements in information and communication technologies. Tobin (1996) suggests that in a knowledge–based economy, an information technology network should be built with components such as knowledge depository, directory of learning sources and groupware. It would be unrealistic to imagine that scholars in sub–Saharan Africa will in this century have access to reliable knowledge depositories, directories of learning sources and groupware from which they may draw knowledge. Scholars need to draw from an existing pool of knowledge to produce new knowledge.

The Internet should be made available widely in institutions of higher learning and other research institutions in sub–Saharan Africa so that scholars can use it for collaboration and communication. Scholars within the region can make use of the Internet to collaborate among themselves and with scholars elsewhere in the world. Laszlo (2006) contends that “e–mail allows one to reach out across the oceans, with no hindrance from the differing time zones — a superiority over phone or fax.” Laszlo further argues that the e–mail is such an easy way of exchanging information that it is a harbinger of scientific collaborations.

It takes a collaborative effort to produce knowledge. Scholars in the developed regions who may buy the idea of collaborating and/or co–publishing with their peers from sub–Saharan Africa should do so bearing in mind the challenges of scholarly publishing in the region. It should be clear that scholars in Africa do not have access to information resources, taken for granted in many countries of the developed regions. It should also be understood that information technologies are largely absent in sub–Saharan Africa. If scholars in the developed world think that no worthy scholarship may come out of Africa, then the appeals to collaborate and co–publish may be like preaching to the wilderness.

Electronic journals

A number of journals are now electronically available. Such journals accept manuscripts electronically as well as allow for manuscripts to be peer–reviewed electronically. This may sound like it is now easier for scholars from sub–Saharan Africa to submit their manuscripts electronically, read other scholars’ manuscripts electronically and even act as peer reviewers. However, many scholars in sub–Saharan Africa do not have access to personal computers, e–mail and the Internet, and may not be able to submit their manuscripts, nor read them or act as peer reviewers electronically. This may mean that scholars from sub–Saharan Africa who are highly qualified and capable of making contributions to knowledge production are excluded because of technology deprivation. Arunachalam (2003) thinks that the ICTs, rather than bridging the digital divide, will widen the knowledge divide or the disparities in people’s capacities to do research and their ability to use the technologies to their advantage.

Environmental challenges

A number of environmental challenges confront scholarly publishing and knowledge production in sub–Saharan Africa. Knowledge production requires an environment that favours free flow of information, limited censorship and free exchange of and sharing of ideas. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) cite Gibson (1986) as hypothesizing that knowledge lies in the environment itself, contrary to the traditional epistemological view that knowledge only exists inside the human brain. Interactions with the environment and free exchange of ideas with knowledge carriers promote creation of knowledge. In sub–Saharan Africa, there are many environmental inhibitors which are responsible for constraining the free flow of information and promotion of knowledge production.

It is nearly a decade into the twenty–first century, but scholars in majority of the sub–Saharan Africa countries still operate in environments where freedom of expression are limited. Freedom of expression in many countries in the region is so difficult that one may as well say it is absent to a large extent. Scholars, especially in the humanities and social sciences restrain themselves from publishing what they think may not be viewed favourably by those in power. Publishing anything critical of those in authority may be a reason for denial of promotion for those scholars who work in government–owned institutions of higher learning. Denial of promotion is the best that can happen to a scholar who publishes anything critical of those in authority. Such individuals can be fired and/or be arraigned before the courts of law, convicted and sent to jail for being found guilty of crimes bordering on treason.

Scholars are compromised and made to produce publications which do not contribute to knowledge . In the 1980s, prominent scholars in Kenya were funded to research on and publish about a populist political slogan of the then President of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, called the “Nyayo philosophy of love, peace and unity.” Scholars who were involved in the project were not only promoted, but pampered. There was nothing philosophical or scholarly in the slogan, but government funds were provided to scholars dedicated to the project. This was despite the fact that there plenty of topical issues which could merit scholarship. Issues like corruption in government, rigging of elections, nepotism, environmental degradation and tribal clashes could all merit scholarly publishing but were too sensitive. These are issues which form part of what Jaygbag (1998) calls a “new wave of socio–economic transformation due to both internal and external pressures which are yet to be fully captured and uncompromisingly put on record by African scholars.”

Most scholars in sub–Saharan Africa are affiliated to or employed by universities. The universities in the region do not enjoy autonomy and freedom of expression is either very limited or non–existent. Chief executive officers and other high ranking officers in the universities are government appointees who are mostly appointed based on political considerations. Because of the political environment in which universities in sub–Saharan Africa operate, scholarly publications which are critical of the government of the day are highly censored and discouraged.

Chakava (1996), a prominent publisher in Kenya summarizes the kind of environment in which a public university in Kenya, and elsewhere in sub–Saharan Africa, operates:

“The university as an institution has been largely politicized and a majority of university professors are absorbed into the state system. Creativity is stifled through the curtailment of literary seminars, journals, and writers’ workshops, and a general lack of facilities or incentives to promote and reward academic excellence. There is lack of an intellectual culture and debate on important issues of the day.”

Invisibility of scholarly publications emanating from research conducted in sub–Saharan Africa

Scholarly publications emanating from sub–Saharan Africa and the entire African continent lack visibility. Such publications may appear in prestigious journals based in the North, but they are hardly noticed by scholars in the North. Not many scholars in the North cite such publications, leading to the publications getting buried in an obscure corner of the world output of knowledge. The same is also true of scholarly journals published in sub–Saharan Africa. Very few articles published by scholars from sub–Saharan Africa may become citation classics or even find a place in the list of key papers on the emerging research fronts. It should be noted that scholars based in sub–Saharan Africa are the best place to conduct research and produce scholarly publications on the region. The scholars based in the region may be lacking financial resources and the modern information technology, but they best understand topical dynamic socio–political and economic issues which need to be captured and recorded by way of scholarly publishing.

Scholars from other regions may not have any research interest in sub–Saharan Africa, and therefore not inclined to view scholarly publications from the region as being of any significance in their research. A few scholars from other regions of the world have conducted research in different disciplines based in sub–Saharan Africa. Such scholars tend to frequently cite publications by scholars from the region. However, such scholars are few and may not go far in making scholarly publications from the region very visible in the global output of scholarly publications in this century.




Scholarly publishing is a fundamental aspect of research dissemination and knowledge sharing process. Authors of scholarly publications come from diverse backgrounds of scholarly traditions and writing dispositions. It is the aspiration of every scholar to publish in top peer–refereed scholarly journals, normally of international standing. Many scholars from sub–Saharan Africa never get to publish their articles in top refereed international journals, leading to invisibility of scholarly publishing from sub–Saharan Africa. Publishable research findings on and about sub–Saharan Africa need to be contextualized and only scholars from the region are more familiar with the different histories, cultures and peoples of the region. This century is seen as a century that ushers in the knowledge society. Sub–Saharan Africa does not as yet, have the capacity to produce and/or use great quantities of knowledge.

Scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa faces numerous challenges, including technological, socio–political, economic challenges as well as an environment that does not favour scholarly publishing. This century brings with it opportunities for scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa. Information technology may make it possible for scholars from the region to more easily access scholarly publications and publish electronically. Information technology also makes it possible for African scholars to serve as peer reviewers electronically. However, information technology is still very underdeveloped in the region, and most scholars do not have access to the Internet.

Considering that knowledge production requires collaboration, scholars from sub–Saharan Africa should consider a collaborative approach to publishing. They can co–publish with scholars from other regions and co–publish with colleagues from within the region. Academic libraries affiliated to institutions of higher learning and other research institutions where most scholars work should consider acquiring books and journals collaboratively so as to cut down on costs. Inter–library loans arrangements can avail more information materials to scholars who are affiliated to the institutions of higher learning and other research institutions in sub–Saharan Africa. End of article


About the author

Ezra Ondari–Okemwa is Lecturer in the Faculty of Information Sciences at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya.



1. Castells, 2001, p. 269.

2. See South Africa’s “Policy and Procedures for Measurement of Research Output of Public Higher Education Institutions” at



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Contents Index

Copyright ©2007, First Monday.

Copyright ©2007, Ezra Ondari–Okemwa.

Scholarly publishing in sub–Saharan Africa in the twenty–first century: Challenges and opportunities by Ezra Ondari–Okemwa
First Monday, Volume 12 Number 10 - 1 October 2007

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