Developing research talent capacities in Africa: Why we must cherish research

Aurelia Munene is a Kenya-based researcher and research mentor. She is also a member and facilitator of INASP’s AuthorAID project. In this post, she shares why support to researchers in Africa is so important

Research production and utilization in Africa is currently experiencing an upward trend following years of measured evolution. Production is calculated in terms of number of publications in peer-reviewed journals and use in terms of number of citations. Recent studies from UNESCO, World Bank and select peer review journals (see this report by the World Bank and Elsevier), have compared data for 10 years and have revealed this optimistic progression. Nonetheless, the literature and studies have identified some key glaring gaps:

  • African (Sub-Saharan Africa) research publication production is at approximately 1% of the total global research production, despite it having 12% of the population*. As such, research volume is still low compared to the elevated diverse needs and underutilized potential in most parts of the continent.
  • Research priorities, concepts and results in Africa are still interpreted from Western standards of what is considered best practices and interventions. As a result, there has been progressive epistemic inequality and injustice where local knowledge is often undermined, marginalized and dismissed in the global research space.
  • There is minimal investment by national governments in research development in terms of evolving relevant infrastructure (communication, internet, laboratories or innovative hubs), and limited strategies exist to retain experienced researchers within the continent so that they can groom more robust researchers. Higher-education programmes continue to have minimal emphasis on quality research-based learning and outputs.
  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research has continued to take a back seat amongst other research priorities. Health research and agriculture has taken a lead in Africa owing to the health burden in the most African countries. STEM research in Sub Saharan Africa accounts for only 29% of output* and this hampers development in key areas where Africa still lags behind in spite of an abundance of natural resources. These areas include: energy, manufacturing, space exploration and extractive industries.
  • The research landscape in Kenya is worrying, because studies have revealed that a vast percentage of its researchers are not from Africa, they are mainly drawn from Western scholarship*. As such, majority go back to their countries often after two years thus, hampering sustainable measures to promote local knowledge co-production and cascade meaningful skills. For example, 39% and 48%*of all East and Southern African researchers respectively are not local.
  • Social science research is a key area of publications in Africa; however we contend that the current array of constraints in Africa require constant adaptation and rethinking within the policy and practice environments. Therefore, there is need for more indigenous nuanced contextualized research.

Why we must cherish research

It is evident that more research needs to be produced by African scholars in Africa with a clear on focus on institutions of higher learning as spaces of relevant and responsive knowledge production and consumption. We need young African scholars to have a cherished relationship with research, to appreciate the benefits of rigorous research and to use it as a platform to give voice to their realities.

We anticipate reframing the current dominant narrative and gaze on Africa as a place of scarcity and depletion to a place where vibrant quality transformative research which drives tangible impact in various fields is sustained. We hope to do so by joining hands with other scholars who push for the retelling of Africa stories with the recognition that Africa today exists within a hybridity of cultural, economic, social, political manifestations and articulated by a multiplicity of voices. To do this, researchers need to employ meaningful participatory multiple methods that are sensitive to diverse ways of knowing, of theoretical stances and of being. African scholars should have opportunities to conduct research in other continents so as share their knowledge and to bridge the inequalities of who tells whose story and who is listened to.

Africa should be repositioned from being a site of knowledge extraction and an implementer of programmes developed externally to a place that co-produces knowledge that is relevant to the fluid needs of the continent, and dialogues on equal partnership level with other contexts.

The intellectual capacity of African researchers is not in question, but we need to create an enabling environment that allows countries to retain and rejuvenate research talent, and improved entry to research and ensure sustainability. These environments should not only include the school spaces, but the virtual spaces, the academic literature spaces (libraries), the systems of paying lecturers, the infrastructure. This will drive innovative research within STEM topics and other subjects.

We appreciate the diversity of African contexts and view this as a resource that still remains under-tapped. We need to support more inter-African research collaborations (in country) as well as intra-country collaborations, so as to strengthen peer-to-peer and institutional learning. We hope to grow a network of peers who leverage on language and cultural parallels to push Africa’s research agenda a notch higher.


*Source: A decade of development in Sub-Saharan African science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research. A report by the World Bank and Elsevier

Guest Contributor

3 Responses to “Developing research talent capacities in Africa: Why we must cherish research

  • Aurelia Munene has made an insightful and revealing position on Africa.
    Beside the issues observed, African researchers need to develop adequate models that will allow easy translation of research results to tangible products and services that can help solve our local problems. African Research must lead to development.

  • James Suah Shilue
    5 years ago

    Dear Aurelia,

    Thanks for the great work you are doing. I am so impressed with the various initiatives that you are undertaking to improve research in Africa.

    I would like to get in direct touch, if possible, to explore ways to expand your activities in my part of the world, where it is highly needed.


  • Aurelia, your stamina and commitment to growing researchers and research mentors is enviable, and I’m privileged to distill the pearls of insight you prescribe in this piece. Kudos, as always!