eLife Community: Ten simple rules for successful and sustainable African research collaboration

Learn how you can engage in true collaboration in this guide from African eLife Community Ambassadors

Drafted and written collaboratively by Roseline Dzekem Dine, Yahaya Abubakar Yabo, Elizabeth A. Ochola, Raziah Quallatein Mwawanga and Ailís O’Carroll (eLife).

Our African eLife Community Ambassadors, driven by a passion for change in research culture and research collaboration practices, have authored a paper to guide sustainable collaboration with African research. Learn how to get involved below.

The guide, containing ten simple ways for international researchers to engage in research collaborations with African researchers, is currently published as a preprint on AfricArXiv and has been uploaded on PREreview for the global research community to give feedback on. The authors Roseline Dzekem Dine (Rwanda), Lamis Yahia Mohamed Elkheir (Sudan), Morufu Olalekan Raimi (Nigeria), Micheal Alemayehu (Ethiopia), Salem Youssef Mohamed (Egypt), Justice Kwadwo Turzin (Ghana), Femi Qudus Arogundade (Nigeria/USA), Elizabeth A. Ochola (Kenya), Alex Mukungu Nasiyo (Kenya), Raziah Quallatein Mwawanga (Tanzania/UK), and Yahaya Abubakar Yabo (Nigeria) hope to solicit more recommendations from the international community that will lead to the guide containing the most successful and sustainable practices for future research collaboration in Africa.

Collaboration is a two-way open and constant dialogue and we want this to be the case from the beginning of this initiative, therefore we invite you to add your reviews to the paper below via the PREreview platform. These can vary from a few sentences to a lengthy report, similar to a journal-organised peer-review.


In the manuscript, we as African Ambassadors, have detailed ten practical and sustainable steps that when followed and built upon will enhance successful collaboration between African researchers and the international research community. We highlight the take-home messages from the paper below. Read the paper for a more detailed understanding.

Rule 1: Understanding Africa

Africa is not a country; it is a diverse continent with the largest number of countries in the world. Each country in Africa has its unique cultural, social, political and economic characteristics that gives it an attractive, innovative and creative approach to collaboration.

Rule 2: Taking advantage of virtual reality

Virtual technology provides an opportunity to bridge the physical distance and facilitate collaboration in a cost-effective manner. As virtual technology evolves, it has huge potential for facilitating collaboration with African researchers in a way that transcends geographical distance.

Rule 3: Investigators’ in-person meetings in Africa

Most in-person interactions hosted in the global north require visas, invitation letters and other bureaucratic practices that hinder African researchers from participating. To mitigate these inconveniences, we recommend that organisers host scientific meetings in visa-friendly countries, such as in Africa where all researchers are able to qualify for visa-free entry or with a visa on arrival. Inclusive practices in the organisation of in-person scientific meetings cultivate trust among collaborators, provide an avenue for context-specific mentoring opportunities for young researchers, and promote successful program-to-project dissemination meetings.

Rule 4: Trade by barter

The current global inequity in the distribution of research resources calls for African investigators to propose recommendations that work in their context. As such, trade by barter is a promising initiative that may promote the exchange of valuable materials and tools between researchers from different parts of the world and enable African researchers to access resources that may not be readily available in their home countries. This may ultimately advance ethical and equitable collaborations.

Rule 5: Collaboration between projects within Africa

To maximise the benefits of research in Africa, structured collaborative projects across African countries are encouraged as they have the capacity to equip individuals with the skills necessary for effective future collaborations. Furthermore, expansive research activities may lead to the establishment of consortiums that promote common goals which are important for the African continent.

Rule 6: Promoting fairness and diversity in collaborative research in Africa

The African continent has complex challenges that can only be addressed through culturally sensitive research methods, enhanced communication strategies, and training programs that promote cultural awareness and understanding among researchers. By doing so, research collaboration in Africa will become more diverse, inclusive, and equitable, leading to meaningful and impactful research outcomes.

Rule 7: Building the capacity of research collaborators

To build research capacity in Africa and minimise brain drain, knowledge transfer practices such as staff exchange programmes can be an effective avenue for improving the capacity of African researchers and promoting meaningful collaboration. It is noted that staff exchange practices can take multiple forms including short-term visits to other institutions or long-term placements between regions in Africa.

Rule 8: Publication guidelines

The current publication guidelines and opportunities do not favour researchers from Africa as they lack transparency due to poor consultative practices. Therefore, researchers from African countries need to come up with clear publication policies at the onset of the research phase. The policies should be agreed upon and reflect the level of contribution of all the collaborators. Implementing such consensus will ensure that publications resulting from such collaborations credit all contributors in a fair, equitable, and respectful way.

Rule 9: Data sharing and management

Data sharing and agreement are pillars of any research collaboration. However, researchers in Africa find themselves in situations where research is initiated without a proper data management plan. A data plan should outline methods of data sharing, roles, and responsibilities of each collaborator. Therefore, universities and funders need to promote and encourage Open Data access and sharing privileges for African researchers to remove the red tape on data access, since an equitable data sharing and management plan promotes accountable and sustainable research opportunities for all researchers.

Rule 10: Ethical approvals

Africa has served as a place for research and discovery for many decades and it has earned its place as a continent that aims to improve research and uphold global practices across the world. However, some collaborators have misused this opportunity by failing to declare their conflict of interest, overlooking the expertise of African scientists, exploiting study participants and implementing research protocols that lack ethically sound practices. As such, this is a call to action for African researchers to lead the review of unjust ethical research practices in Africa.


The implementation of sound international collaborative practices in the African continent will assist in overcoming weaknesses in the national systems, despite the minimal resources. Africa's unique burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as its biodiversity, offers opportunities for breakthroughs in precision medicine and disease prevention that can benefit researchers and populations across the world. Furthermore, collaborative research has the capacity to provide socio-economic benefits and support talent development systems that are responsive to the growing demographic of the African continent. Several research funding opportunities are often only available to African researchers when they collaborate with other researchers working in the regions or countries providing the funding opportunities.

We propose these ten principles as starting points to guide the discussions and establishment of more equitable research collaboration in Africa. There is often talk about collaboration but now is the time to take action and advocate for true partnership and participation. Now it is your turn- we would love for you to get involved!

  1. Firstly please give us your feedback on this paper.
  2. The next step is your commitment to implementing these measures in your institution and your interest in co-hosting a webinar in your lab or department in collaboration with our growing network of research Ambassadors in Africa (please get in touch and sign up to this via the Google form linked below).

We look forward to working alongside you!


We welcome comments, questions and feedback. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at community[at]elifesciences[dot]org