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Science Blogging in Sub-Saharan Africa

Blogging has become an integral part of popular culture in Sub-Saharan Africa but blogging about science is still lagging behind. Many initiatives have been launched to increase the culture of sharing in the African scientific world, yet African science blogs, particularly about research, are still few and far between.

Lack of public interest?

The reason for this dearth of science blogging may be related to the uneven development of scientific research on the continent; the need for more research is well-known. B. Ruelle explains on his blog [fr]:

Le niveau de développement atteint par l’Asie du Sud-Est devrait pousser les Africains à investir dans la science et la technologie ; la science et la technologie représentent la seule voie d’évitement de la perpétuation de la faiblesse de l’Afrique dans le commerce international ; c’est aussi, dans un monde inégalitaire où racisme et xénophobie perdurent, la condition de l’affirmation de la part des Africains dans l’un des phares de la connaissance humaine.

The level of development reached by Southeast Asia should push African nations to invest into science and technology; science and technology are the only way to avoid the enduring shortcomings of Africa in international trade; it is also the only way to prevent racism and xenophobia in this increasingly inegalitarian world; the one remedy to assert African contribution to the global human knowledge pool.
University of Cheik Anta Diop in Dakar Senegal by Myriam Louviot (CC-License-BY).

University of Cheik Anta Diop in Dakar Senegal by Myriam Louviot (CC-License-BY).

The continent is not short on talented scientists. Bernard Kom lists a few of the mosts prominent African scientists [fr] right now, and some of them are also active on the web.

Jacques Bonjawo is a Cameroonian engineer who chairs the Board of Directors of the African Virtual University (AVU). He explains the objectives of the institution [fr]:

L’UVA a été conçue comme un système d’éducation à distance à travers Internet dont la mission est précisément de former une masse critique d’africains à des coûts faibles, grâce à des économies d’échelle ; une formation moderne et de qualité au terme de laquelle l’étudiant devient immédiatement opérationnel sur le marché de l’emploi.

The AVU was conceived as a complete remote online teaching institute whose mission is to train a critical mass of Africans at low cost through economy of scale. We provide a modern quality curriculum that aims to make the student immediately operational for the job market.

Mzamose Gondwe from Malawi recognizes the need to promote more African engagement with science. That is the objective of her blog, African Science Heroes. She explains what she aims to accomplish:

 I documented in print, exhibition and film African Science Heroes, Afrrican scientists who have made considerable contributions to science. In this way I hope to generate a sense of pride in our African science accomplishments and promote public engagement with science.

African research pigeonholed? 

When scientific news from Africa makes it to mainstream media platforms, it is usually related to environmental programmes, public health or research on exotic animals. A typical story that was shared many times on various online media was the recent research publication of the mating habits of the female gray mouse lemur in Madagascar. The title itself, “Costly sex under female control in a promiscuous primate”, was bound to draw quite a bit of interest from the non-scientific community.

As it turned out, the study draws interesting conclusion about strategy for the survival of the species as Sara Reardon from Science NOW explains:

Either a polygamous lifestyle confers some unknown evolutionary advantage for females, the team concludes, or girls really do just want to have fun.

African science and engineering has much to offer in other areas as well. The blog Afrigadget highlights innovative engineering projects aiming at solving specific problems. One of these projects is biogas installations in Kenya.

Paula Kahumbu explains how piki piki (motor bikes in Kiswhahili) can help distribute dung more efficiently:

The problem I face is common to many folks around here, we rent houses but we don’t have livestock. But there are huge cattle farms around us. So Dominic came up with a solution that creates jobs and moves poop quickly and efficiently. So we went to the local juakali welder on the roadside to create a dungmobile ..a trailer designed specially for cow dung!

The Africamaat project aims to document the full history of African science and its inventors. More precisely, it adds [fr]:

Notre démarche vise donc essentiellement à démontrer qu’il est profondément arbitraire d’exclure systématiquement l’Afrique noire de l’historiographie universelle lorsqu’il est question des sciences

Our approach aims to demonstrate that it is deeply arbitrary to systematically exclude black Africa from the universal history of science.

In this video, YouTube user White African showcases an invention by Killian Deku, a Ghanaian engineer that came up with a device to dose the amount of chlorine to add to water:

Open access to publications 

Madagascar is accustomed to have its lemur population draw more headlines that its people. However, it should not go unnoticed that the scientific blogging community there is starting to emerge. Several projects aim to collect and make available to the public all the scientific resources about the country.

Ange Rakotomalala describes the objectives of website Thèses Malgaches en ligne [mg]:

Ho hitanao eto ireo vokam-pikarohana tontosa teto amin'ny firenentsika nanomboka tamin'ny taona 2002.

On this website, you will be able to find all the theses and dissertations published since 2002

The scientific community blog MyScienceWork aims to promote the culture of sharing among scientists [fr]:

Pour construire la culture scientifique de demain, la science doit devenir toujours plus multidisciplinaire. Elle doit s’adresser aux amateurs de science, au public, aux professionnels de la recherche [..] En 2011, nous avons publié les textes d’étudiants en informatique des pays d’Afrique du Nord, de chercheurs en communication d’université belge, de doctorants en neurosciences, en agronomie, d’exobiologistes de renom [..] Parce que nous croyons que la culture générale doit inclure les savoirs scientifiques, nous vous remercions chaleureusement. Faites passer le message : « partager c’est vivre ».

To build the necessary scientific culture of tomorrow, science must strive to become more multidisciplinary. It must be accessible to science amateurs, the general public, the research scientists [..] In 2011, we published articles on IT from countries in Northern Africa, in communication with renowned Belgian researchers, and in neuroscience, agronomy and exobiology from PhD students [..] We did so because we believe that general knowledge ought to include science and we thank you for reading us. Please pass along this message: “sharing is living”.

The final words on science in Africa belong to Cheikh Anta Diop, one of the most prominent scientists in Africa, as posted by Africamaat [fr]:

En attendant, les spécialistes africains doivent prendre des mesures conservatoires. Il s’agit d’être apte à découvrir une vérité scientifique par ses propres moyens en se passant de l’approbation d’autrui, de savoir conserver son autonomie intellectuelle

Meanwhile, the African specialists must take prudent measures. It must be about being able to discover a scientific fact by our own means and without the approval of anyone else, about keeping our intellectual autonomy
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  • http://www.LIFELIB.blogspot.com Tosin

    Thank you for writing about this. I have a mathematics blog (general audience) at http://www.xinvogue.blogspot.com and sometimes write about scientific enterprise at my personal blog http://www.lifelib.blogspot.com

  • Pingback: OA News: May 8-22, 2012 (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Misc.) » oAfrica

  • http://afrisciheroes.wordpress.com/ Muza

    A survey of African science blogging would be useful to see who is blogging, where and about what and as well as who is reading where? http://ionian-enchantment.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/african-science-rationalism-and.html – keeps a African science blogroll. Few African scientists blog despite studies showing that scientists who blog have a higher citation rate.

    • http://rakotomalala.blogspot.com/ Lova Rakotomalala

      Thank you for weighing in Muza, your blog was an inspiration for this post. A few people on twitter and Facebook have made similar arguments (that there is a need for an exhaustive blog roll of African scientists). Your link is a good start that we will try to build upon.

  • http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/urban-scientist DNLee

    Thanks for this post. I’m a US science blogger and I’ll be visiting Tanzania this summer to do field research.  I want to continue blogging while I’m there, about my science research of  course.  It is good to know about the existing science & social media culture that is there. I hope I make some friends, too.

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