DotConnectAfrica the embattled applicant of .africa gTLD string has gone full circle with the treatment of its application by the institution that is in custody of the global naming system and the internet. ICANN opened up the application round for the new gTLDs early January 2012 in a process that is currently through with the Initial Evaluations.
After the close of the application round, there were 1,930 applications received by ICANN and among them 66 were geographic name applications. Africa submitted a total of 17 applications with four applications falling under the geographic string.
The .Africa gTLD has become among the most controversial applications, next to .xxx ever in ICANN. The applications for the strings were submitted by DotConnectAfrica and Uniforum SA. DotConnectAfrica has in its profile a 6 year solid campaign for the .africa project; however the organization saw a fierce overthrow by the very institutions that initially supported the project as best formulated and panned for implementation.
Additionally, aside from AU, DotConnectAfrica has over three endorsements from credible institutions including the UNECA, Corporate Council of Africa, and IDRU, before the sabotage work was done by its opponents, but for these article, we shall dwell on the 2009 Africa Union .africa Endorsement.
The AUC Endorsement Ref/ BC/Y/727/08.02, signed by former Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union Dr. Jean Ping on 27th August 2009 said:
” The Africa Union Authority in its capacity as a continental organization would like to express support for the ‘dotafrica’ initiative through which your organization [dotconnectafrica] is applying for delegation of a regional identifier –‘.africa’ from ICANN…. .”,
the letter goes on that
“…In this regard, should your initiative require it, the African Union Authority is willing to offer assistance in the coordination of your initiative with African ministers and Governments”.
The African Union Commission letter authoritatively concludes that:
“based on the above the African Union Authority Expresses its endorsement of the DotAfrica “.africa” initiative wishing you success in all endeavors.”
DotConnectAfrica rallied the entire African continent and globally marketing the .africa TLD, including ICANN’s own meetings, reportedly at its own cost, however it appears that as soon as the idea had picked root, new interest groups emerged and within a span of several months. DotConnectAfrica’s initiative started to face an en-surmountable number of challenges.
In a 16th April 2010, an unstamped letter from the Deputy Chair person Erastus Mwencha was sent to DotConnectafrica’s CEO Ms. Bekele. It read:
“Reference to my letter Ref/ BC/Y/727/08.02 sent to you on 27th August 2009…, I would like to inform you that following consultations with relevant stakeholders, the African Union Commission has reconsidered its approach in implementing the subject Internet Domain Name (DotAfrica) and no longer endorses individual initiatives in this matter …” the letter continues ,
“In Coordination with the Member states and with relevant international organization such as ICANN, the Commission will go through open process that certainly will involve the private sector”.
The Company has reportedly made presentations for the Deputy and his staff before approvals were obtained.
The idea of a .africa registry and its returns to the continent may have awoken other interests and it appears that several individuals within the AUC system were used to stamp a new wave of idea to restructure and position the .africa idea to friendly Cabal.
Moctar Yedaly, Head of the Telecom and Postal Division of the African Union Commission, and Dr. Elham Ibrahim, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, after months of consultation and deliberation on .africa provided a written letter of support to Ms. Bekele saying we welcome and support your initiative, which was reportedly sent to the AU Chairman for obtaining his Commission’s approval and endorsement.
These same individuals are the ones now who took the decision to reversing the endorsements and pushing for the AU leading role in the .africa.
However, it is reported that the entire push and attempted endorsement reversal came from a special interest group, namely Nii Quaynor and Pierre Dandjinou among others who approached and lobbied the AU, calling themselves “leaders of the Internet Community” and constituted themselves into the Chair and Vice Chair of an “AU dotAfrica Taskforce”, excluding DCA in the matter, in order to determine the faith of the gTLD.
These group initially advised the AU, evidenced in the report refereed to as a ‘Briefing Note on DotAfrica‘, to lead and own the Initiative and give it to a structure that AU will identify, which was conceptually parallel to the alleged AUC withdrawal letter above written for Mwencha; which is for the AUC to owning the gTLD and handing it over to a structure they identified.
But that advice which later translated into a hijack of the gTLD exclusively via a “Reserve Name” strategy for the AU failed miserably at the ICANN Dakar meeting, as the DotConnectAfrica campaigned and pointed out that this was against the ICANN rulebook and claimed that this strategy was made up by those who identified themselves as part of the structure and wanted the .africa for themselves.
At that time, African Registry Consortium (ARC), a newly created registry company no one in the community has heard of, came as part of the registry structure the special interest group identified and supported. It was led and owned by the current Uniforum directors, who were seen fiercely lobbying the AU at the Dakar meeting. The Dakar Agenda also intended to include a .africa presentation by ARC during the Pre-ICANN Africa Ministerial meeting, an event sponsored by the AU and its west Africa friendly countries drawn from the organizers in Senegal and reportedly Moctar Yedaly’s lists. The idea was to get ARC endorsed as part of the process and pass a resolution to ICANN for the Reserved name. It was reported that DCA also opposed openly to this presentation of .africa by ARC as opportunities were not provided to both companies as well as reject the endorsement strategy of the group, which then resulted in the organizers changing their strategy to allow ARC to present only on technical features of a registry instead of a .africa initiative.
Before this event took place, AFTLD and dotafrica.org led by Nii Quaynor, have failed to gain endorsement at the AU due to a reportedly open Campaign by DCA on his Conflict of Interest position as an AU dotAfrica Taskforce member. Additionally, Vika Mpisane the General Manager of the Domain Name Authority in South Africa (over-sighting the ccTLD .za) and also Chairman of AfTLD were also the plausible ‘South-African connection’ conceived within the same vein of the earlier “Internet Solutions proposal” that brought Mr.Andile Ngcaba, in the picture, reportedly floated by the same cabal that initially supported dotafrica.org.
However in a shift of allegiances to AfTLD, Vika Mpisane vigorously pushed the same proposal to Andile to enable the African Registry Consortium (ARC) to be proposed for establishment in order to help fund the AfTLD bid for a .africa TLD.
With all the preceding events and post unsuccessful Ministerial Round table in Dakar, and few months to the application process, everyone saw the rise of Uniforum out of nowhere. Uniforum Registry hosts the current .ZA and seem to be their company of the last resort. For lack of ARC being successful in singly taking up the .africa bid, there came Uniform to the rescue, however to everyone’s surprise, owned or directed by the same ARC people who reinvented themselves as new interest at the AU.
This culminated to a concealed process presented in an African Union RFP for the Operation of DotAfrica (30/IED/11). The issuance of the RFP also continued with a strategy to outsource the project to the structure the task force group identified.
However it became clear that there was an official deviation from the earlier failed position contained in the ‘Briefing Note on DotAfrica‘, since ICANN did not reserve the dotafrica name for the AU, therefore, AU and its Taskforce simply decided to institute an RFP process to enable it select a registry for the structure that was identified by the special interest group/Cabal. Therefore the AU as a stakeholder, while simply supposed to endorse, instead was seen as making a decision on who should operate DotAfrica based on an outsourcing model.
In a nutshell, the AU RFP led to the selection of a Consortium that the AU and the Special Interest group represented by the AU dotafrica Task Force found friendly, as exposed in the widely distributed, yet an unpublished report on the “History of .Africa” authored by Rebecca Wanjiku (also part of the same structure, elected as PR of the Uniforum Steering Committee at the time).
According to her report “The AUC RFP made it clear that AUC wanted African ccTLDs to play a crucial role in implementing .Africa. The AUC wanted .Africa run by an African operator using an African technology. This forced AfTLD to do an immediate review of its bid. Mpisane says that It was out of this reality that he personally (in his capacity as AfTLD Chairman at the time) lobbied the AfTLD Directors, key AfTLD members African community to find a suitable registry partner and investor from Africa.” [Exerpt from History Of DotAfricaAfTLD (African Top Level Domain) participation in .Africa Pg. 5]
From the sources I have dug, the AU or that Infrastructure Unit that was managing Roads and other mandates has all of a sudden been interested to become an ICT unit in 2008, just to meet the needs of these special interest group. As reported, the AU had no clue what ccTLDs were nor a gTLD, until DotConnectAfrica entered the gates of AU. Despite, it looks like the dotAfrica taskforce has published and said much on what they want, making use of the AU as an institution to meet their desired goal .i.e highjacking the entire .africa gTLD for themselves.
As it stands, the whole dotAfrica issue was ripped off from a transparent and open auditable process to a closed and stage managed project that would be handled and manipulated by the special interest group to benefit themselves and their cohorts at the AUC .
As such, the outcome of a Pan-African project for Africa is simply a hood wink and as such the resources may be usurped and channeled elsewhere.