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26 May 2020 | Story Marcus Maphile | Photo Supplied
Marcus Maphile

The African continent is known for endless wars, extreme poverty, under-development, and highly contested borders left by the legacy of colonialism. Low levels of literacy among young people and adults remain a concern in many African states. African universities are slowly beginning to play a significant role in contributing to national innovation systems that seek to change the socio-economic and other fortunes of many poor and marginalised Africans. 

The African continent celebrates the 57th anniversary of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and the relevance of the current African Union (AU) in the fight against socio-economic challenges caused by COVID-19 on the continent. The fear faced by most African countries emanates from inadequate healthcare systems and facilities. The debate on the opening of schools and institutions of higher learning is passed around like a soccer ball, as countries are aware that they lack the capacity to accommodate a surge of COVID-19 infections.

The African higher education and research sector is struggling to adapt. Will they be able to play a significant role towards finding a vaccine, producing new knowledge or research from African indigenous plants?  To be factual, in many ways this is not likely to happen, as most of the higher education institutions struggle with internet connectivity and high data costs. Many books and journals in libraries remain inaccessible, and most will only later record how developed countries moved to online teaching and learning with great success or failure.   All this will happen under the noses of illiterate Africans who rightly expect their higher education and research institutions to contribute towards finding immediate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic threat.

Most public and academic libraries remain closed and there is no word and contribution from highly decorated professionals towards sustaining reading habits and availing relevant materials for research towards finding a vaccine. There is no co-ordinated plan from library ministries and or library lobby groups. This is the context in which Africa Month 2020 is celebrated. It will be remembered as the year in which the promotion of reading and the opening of schools took a beating.

Marcus Maphile is Assistant Director: Library Marketing at the University of the Free State and he writes in his personal capacity.

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