Open infrastructure is revolutionising how research is conducted and shared globally. In Africa, where resource constraints, access, and cultural barriers often hinder scientific progress, open infrastructure presents a transformative opportunity for African researchers, educators, and policymakers. WACREN exemplifies the role research and education networks (RENs) need to play in creating a stimulating infrastructural environment to foster quality research that informs policy decision-making. Beyond this, WACREN is also inspiring a new generation of African innovators to think ‘open’ in the design of their technologies to support research, teaching and learning. The recent WACREN Conference in Abuja highlighted the key issues and dynamics influencing open infrastructure in Africa and how RENs can help to navigate the journey. WACREN’s open infrastructure strategy hinges on five pillars driven by well-researched community needs: community building, infrastructure, capacity building, advocacy, and collaboration.

Collaboration for a shared data repository for African agricultural researchers
The WACREN-RUFORUM cooperation is a journey towards a continental shared agricultural data repository and publication platform. Thanks to funding support from the AfricaConnect3 project, thousands of agriculture researchers across 140 African higher education institutions (HEIs) can store, archive, access and share their research data in a more secure networked environment. Open infrastructure principles are applied to WACREN’s data infrastructure, promoting the open exchange of knowledge and supporting the principles of open science as recommended in the UNESCO Recommendations on Open Science. The infrastructure is open source, interoperable, transparent, accessible, community-governed, and based on global community frameworks and best practices.

What about health research?
LIBSENSE, an initiative funded by the European Commission under the AfricaConnect project, is collaborating with PublicHealth.Africa and other partners to develop the necessary open infrastructure that will help amplify the knowledge contribution of African public health researchers through open publishing. A recent report that followed a series of engagements, including a workshop, showed that African public health research needs more visibility, even within Africa, due to many factors, including the paywall barrier. A recent publication also proved that many local journals were not indexed, and most authors were charged article processing fees (APC). The publication showed that most African public health researchers need tailored, sustained capacity building to bring them up to speed with practises and trends in open publishing. WACREN, through LIBSENSE, is working with like-minded partners to nurture an ecosystem that naturally irons out the challenges public health researchers face.
WACREN will soon deploy an academic publishing platform to help solve the publishing infrastructure gap. When fully rolled out, thousands of African-bred public health journals will access our intuitive open access peer-reviewed publishing platform, which hosts preprints and journals.

Open infrastructure for climate and weather monitoring in Africa
WACREN is harnessing its strengths in collaboration, access to infrastructure and capacity building to advance open infrastructure for climate and weather monitoring in Africa. With the support of the AfricaConnect3 project, WACREN is collaborating with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) to stimulate various actors in our region’s climate and weather monitoring space on out-of-the-box mechanisms for handling weather monitoring and water management issues. Ghana and Nigeria are the current testbeds. Last year, in Ghana, WACREN collaborated with the Ghana Meteorology Services (GMET), the Ghana Academic Research Network (GARNET) and ICTP to pilot LoRaWAN weather monitoring stations. Some LoRa-based IoT gateways were installed and powered by GARNET’s high-speed network to bring immediate, reliable weather data to GMET to inform weather reports for the catchment community. With the benefits of device affordability and reduced maintenance costs, WACREN, in a white paper, inherently justifies close collaboration between national RENs, national meteorological agencies and climate research centres in finding feasible ways to access, share and use weather data for decision-making.

Surface water pollution is a grave environmental issue. In our part of the world, where accurate data from water body monitoring is scant, resulting in decision-making for public health and ecological sanity is challenging. One cost-effective way of handling the situation is the deployment of IoT-based LoRa nodes with solar panels to monitor surface water pollution on river bodies. After intensive desk and field training, water researchers across the WACREN region assembled and deployed an IoT-based sensor network to monitor pollution on the Okpa River in Ife. The endeavour is scalable and replicable in many similar situations across Africa.

By supporting the adoption and utilisation of open infrastructure, WACREN plays a crucial role in driving scientific progress, fostering innovation, and promoting equitable access to knowledge on our side of the world. As Africa continues to embrace open infrastructure, the contributions of RENs will be instrumental in building a brighter, more inclusive future for the continent.