Commentary from DCA on AfTLD’s interest to manage .africa domain

Our attention has been drawn to a recent article in ComputerWorld Kenya – an online magazine – (www.computerworld.co.ke) titled AfTLD seeks mandate to manage .africa by staff writer Rebecca Wanjiku on March 21 2011 which has now compelled Dot Connect Africa (DCA) to address two statements made by the writer/article.
(Article link: http://news.idg.no/cw/art.cfm?id=7EE38037-1A64-67EA-E40D279CF0653219)

1) African Union and the Mandate to manage .Africa:

The article stated inter alia: “The African Union, the regional political and economic body, has already declared that any party interested in managing “.africa” top level internet domain (TLD) must seek its mandate. AfTLD will therefore be required to seek a mandate from both the AU and ICANN”

First, DCA is not aware of any such declaration. Therefore, if you have it from your sources within the AU kindly avail it for our careful study and comment.

Second, as the organization that first expressed interest to ICANN and followed the process vigorously over several years, DCA is not aware that the mandate for the management of the “.africa” registry is given by the AU. ICANN is the only governance authority that awards this mandate and this is done on a global scale and is not a regional or continental matter. To the best of our knowledge, the process of winning the mandate from ICANN follows a set of application rules, procedures and guidelines which are open and transparent. Within the global Internet governance framework and the way it is modeled, the AU has no mandate to give to anyone. All of ICANN’s procedural guidelines are contained in a Rule Book.

Third, the above statement in the article seems designed to create the mass delusion that AU has a mandate to give. AU does not have any mandate to give a mandate regarding the management of the dotafrica registry. For example, whereas it is perfectly okay for the AU to give a mandate for a group to run and operate its web site/corporate Internet resources, the AU does not have the mandate to give any mandate for the DotAfrica registry, a resource that it does not own. Any attempt to create the impression that the AU has a complementary or supplementary mandate to give anybody regarding the implementation of the dotAfrica registry will introduce extraneous rules that would tend to subvert the process so as to accommodate individual interests and the opaque agenda of a few. This would be unacceptable within the global Internet governance framework.
2) On AfTLD conflict of interest:
It was mentioned in the article the conflict of interest on AfTLD, but not clarified. DCA’s position regarding conflict interest is as follows:

First, one cannot serve two masters properly at the same time and the dotAfrica business constituency that DCA has partnered with across Africa will be overly concerned over such arrangements. DCA, also a non-profit, has proffered a workable public-private partnership model that is key to delivering development solutions on a sustainable and strategic basis. Opaque arrangements would in all likelihood alienate the business partnership community and the sectoral constituencies they represent.

Second, the country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) – like .ke, .ug and .tz – may find capacity building attractive and give mandate to AfTLD in hopes of getting money. What AfTLD is offering is a source of income that is dependant on dotAfrica whose proceeds it intends to manage at the same time. (So far, as we know, AfTLD is an association organized by very few people, with 24 country membership, a total of less than approximately 25 personnel, and their proposal backed by among others ISOC Africa all representing less than 75 people in their domain; and trying to high-jack a continental domain, claiming to represent the entire African internet community, which runs over millions!

Whilst having the experience to running a registry is not as technically-challenging as it may seem on face value, having a workable business and marketing model that generates revenue on a sustainable basis is rather more crucial. AfTLD was in existence for the past 10 years and was entirely dependent on AfriNIC, the IP addressing organization for its activities, including financial support as it never had its own source of revenue generation, because it never developed and implemented a business/marketing model.

What guarantees are there that AfTLD would bring in the required success for dotAfrica TLD? There should not be exclusivity in the distribution of proceeds from “.africa.” It belongs to the larger internet community. What they are proposing is to “rob Peter (.africa) and pay Paul (ccTLDs)” by ‘conflicting their mandates. Why should the African community trust an institution that changes its mandate just to benefit its “exclusive” community of ccTLDs, or is AfTLD going to change that too in the future? What guarantee do we have that AfTLD will not have a revolving mandate in the future to accomodate yet another opportunity for its “exclusive” vision for Africa, excluding everyone else? There is no integrity their process, except self benefit.

Stemming from the above point, are they simply intending to receive free income based on rent-seeking scenarios, creating a welfare continent? We believe that AfTLD should be able to build internal capacity by doing a true service to their constituencies and coming up with a proper business and marketing model of their own instead of changing their mandate to benefit financially from ‘dotAfrica’.

Furthermore, the community knows AfTLD is being used as an alternate vehicle or fallback position for the cabal that was not able to get to win ‘dotAfrica’ through the vehicles they already set up – that is to say, AfriNIC, then dotafrica.org – due to the reported conflicting interests in their activities. Any proper due diligence on AfTLD will also show further conflicting interests especially regarding certain individuals that are affiliated to AfTLD and have also been affiliated to AfriNIC, dotafrica.org, and many other organizations including advisory role on the AU dotafrica Taskforce.

Finally, running a registry is more than just having technical know-how; it requires policy implementation over the organization and administration of a Registry, strategic skills that technical people are not expected to be truly proficient in. In this case, to propose a policy of 2 for 1 for dotafrica and a ccTLD potentially has huge conflict.

The entire proposal of AfTLD is a case of the wolves running and chasing with the hounds, and should not be supported.

Thus, it is these conflicting positions that makes AfTLD’s expression of interest (EOI) of no effect and is not likely to succeed.

DCA has already made its positions very clear during the recently concluded ICANN40 meeting in San Francisco, USA.

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