Open access to the scholarly literature is crucial for African academics but, without urgent action, the move from paywall to pay-to-publish wall will continue to disenfranchise researchers.

In an unpublished study, we looked at the 40 journals with the highest impact factors in our field (ecology), and found that the average article-processing charge was US$3,150. Three‑quarters of these journals do not offer waivers for scientists from low-income nations. The waiver process is complicated and opaque, and often seems to be based on special pleading.

African governments and universities rarely, if ever, fund article-processing fees. Most African scientists cannot afford to pay these fees themselves. Average monthly salaries are, for example, $531 in Madagascar and $365 in Ethiopia. In Uganda, the cost of publishing two articles could cover a year’s tuition and field expenses for a master’s student. In Nigeria, the fees for one paper could cover the costs of three master’s students.

We applaud the efforts of funders and publishers who are promoting the accessibility of research and creating a more equitable process. To grapple with the challenges Africa faces, building research capacity depends on scientists being able to publish in — as well as read — journals.