Absence may be attributed to the AU bypassing Ethiopian immigration protocol without declaring itself as the host of the event officially and providing behind the scene logistical accommodation for ICANN and participants.
ICANN participated with the regional IG community in two important events in March 2013. These events were attended by regional stakeholders from government, the private sector and civil society.
The African Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance meeting held at the UNECA Conference Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 6-8 March 2013 was organized in partnership with African IGF, AfriNIC, AFTLD, ISOC Africa, and the ATU, according to the published agenda.
The name of the African Union was never mentioned, with the exception that they were listed officially to speak at the opening dinner as well as email noting the participants were to send their VISA support application via an email address that mentioned AU i.e. [name]@africa-union.org
The formal meeting was preceded with Pre-conference training workshop on DNS market developments in Africa according to their website. However, much of the meeting was populated with African ccTLDs whom one cannot refer to as “business” as they are government identities. In fulfilling its role as a global Internet body working for the public interest, ICANN has embarked on regional engagement plans in a number of developing countries and regions around the world.
There were only two Ministers from Uganda and Burundi that participate as well as representatives from ITU and ATU. The meeting however may have not been welcomed given the noticeable absence of the Ethiopian Government represented by the Minster of ICT, whose official title was also enlisted on the Conference Agenda, naming his new appointment in Government as Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
Throughout the conference, this was also observed and no other Ethiopia government representative was sent nor were representatives from Ethiopian Telecom to share experiences on the ccTLD, as much of the meeting was dominated by the ccTLDs.
This may be seen by observers as an increasing dissatisfaction by the host countries with the way ICANN is handling its meeting affairs, to only accept meetings by organizers without confirming support by the government bodies. Given that the Toronto GAC communiqué says:
“The GAC noted that the South African government was not consulted with regards to the planned ICANN meeting in Durban, South Africa in July 2013.”, the same that may have happened in Ethiopia.
It is disrespect to any government when ICANN is organizing a meeting to host in the country and the immigration protocol is bypassed by diplomatic authorities whose names were never mentioned as host of the event. The way I see it, ICANN was lucky that the Ethiopian government did not even shut down the immigration after learning the African Union ‘Note Verbal‘ has invited participant to the country bypassing Ethiopia customs and immigration procedures.The main reason for the Ethiopian Government absence was therefore speculated to be that the organizers sought visa entry services through the AU offices rather than the Ethiopian Government which is also the host country of the African union offices.
During the last two days, the AU officials represented by the AU Commissioner of Infrastructure and one of her Directors were eminently present in the meetings, as the Commissioner made the opening speech at the official opening day of 4 days event as well as at the dinner gathering.
In a more embarrassing revelation to come, the African Union logo and its partnership and hosting of the event was disguised in the original Agenda, that listed the official partners and organizers, which then started to appear formally on the presentation screen on the 3rd day of the conference, with the final day closing session acknowledging that the AU was the official host of the event to everyone’s surprise.
The level of ICANN participation in Africa may be affected if there is increased friction or notion of forceful intrusion that bypasses the governments especially in hosting the ICANN events. Though the strategy has key objectives and strategic projects most of which are geared toward the promotion of the African DNS market, the deepening of African participation in ICANN, and re-positioning ICANN’s presence and perception in Africa. ICANN must be seen as a partner with the government and not an isolated entity looking to get to the continent. Worst case scenario is that ICANN should be bale to sort out who has officially invited them or note and the organizers have followed due process to host the meetings.
At this particular event which was organized in a quick and adhoc manner, one can speculate the shady and unofficial hosting of the AU behind the scene can be attributed to the fact that AU is a co-applicant to the .africa gTLD at ICANN and being the official host of an ICANN event not only puts itself in a conflict of interest position, but AU’s act can be considered as an underhanded lobbying effort for .africa, which may even call for disqualification of its application.