Latest reports on the unlikely status of Uniforum have emerged showing just how far the organization is going through continuous metamorphosis in a desperate move to take the reins of the controversial dotAfrica registry. While these new developments indicate that dotAfrica gTLD may not even be ready for delegation any time soon.
Why? Two applicants for the string are going through separate but truly unnecessary processes. I say unnecessary because if you have been following the dotAfrica story very keenly, you will see the controversies that have dogged the domain making it almost the least desired new gTLD vs its ranking before.
There have been reports of undue interference by the Africa Union (AU) who in good faith gave endorsement for DCA initially, and started the nasty game of withdrawing its support months later, saying “AU would not support any organization, and will go through an open and transparent process to select who to endorse”, to finally favoring itself, via an attempted hostile takeover of .africa, when it requested ICANN to Reserve the Name exclusively for the privileges of the AU.
With a bruised ego of ICANN’s refusal to reserve the name, which was attributed to DCA’s objection of such a proposal to being against ICANN’s rules, the AU went ahead and issued a quick RFP and within less than a month appointed Uniforum, as a sole registry operator for dotAfrica. Uniforum is again owned by the same directors of Africa Registry Consortium (ARC) – which failed to get endorsement in Dakar. This appointment/selection process was criticized as very short window to a parallel technical review that presumably took years to develop and an evaluation criteria requiring over over six months processing for selection of a registry at ICANN.
During the ICANN reveal day, the applicant was actually Uniforum SA and amid the public mystery of why the AU did not apply for the TLD directly, the Quid pro quo was easily discovered as Uniforum’s application to ICANN disclosed that “all legal rights of the registry database and intellectual property” will be transferred to the AU. Reportedly this transaction is to have been done under an undisclosed agreement.
The story with ARC begun in October 2011, during the pre-Dakar ICANN International conference, when DCA did one of its known ‘No campaigns” on ARC as it claimed to give early warning to the community that “the structure to be identified by the AU“ for their “Reserve Name” proposal also included ARC as they were the only registry brought in to make presentations at the Dakar Ministerial conferences. At this point, the results of the earlier AU’s call for “expression of Interest” in March for dotAfrica were still not disclosed. DCA Claimed that the conference was anticipated to give endorsement to ARC as a dotAfrica registry operator at the same time, when AU would be imposing a “Reserve name” request on ICANN through a Ministerial resolution. DCA’s objection to both the Reserve Name and ARC was not anticipated by the AU proponents, which included the AU dotAfrica Task Force, who was said to have devised the entire strategy. The ARC consortium was also exposed by DCA as one of BEE scam effort of South Africa. Therefore, Therefore, the entire consortium of AU/ ARC fell apart in Dakar and the ARC failed to be the company applying for dotAfrica.
Another controversy soon emerged when DCA called out two ICANN Board members for claims of having ‘arms length’ relationship with Uniforum. The ICANN Ombudsman investigated but didn’t confer a ruling, he gave warnings on his report to the Board on futurities. Therefore with his report considered inconclusive, it was expected that the board members would recuse themselves from any meetings that would discuss the DCA Objection by GAC, and/or any resultant reconsideration request, a step that further cemented the claims of conflict of interest. Also within the GAC itself, the entire public noted that Vice Chair was working in tandem with African Union to object to DCA, while she is a known member of Uniforum’s Steering Committee, supporting the strategies to have DCA stopped with early warnings and finally objection.
Most recently, a media report titled “Delays hit .africa sunrise launch phase” attempts to show the reasons for the delay of the .africa launch, “because the ZACR has changed its name from UniForum SA, this alteration has initiated a contract change request: a process that is under review by ICANN.” and also a similar media report adds the provision of a Continuing Operating Instrument (COI) according to ICANN’s revised criteria”
Masilela is a new CEO of ZACR, the dotAfrica registry that is now being passed down again from Uniforum SA to ZACR. Masilela is also a Board Director of .ZA Domain Name Authority, and a Chair of the South African Communication Forum (SACF), founded by Mr. Andile Ngcaba who is also the founder of Convergence Partners (Pty) Ltd, which would have co-owned ARC with Domain Name Services (Pty) Ltd, an outfit where Neil Dundas is Director. Mr. Andile has been appointed to the ICANN high-level Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation and its members. In a 2013 press release, Lucky Masilela had said,
“As SACF we are encouraged that a person of the caliber, experience, expertise and vision as Andile Ngcaba will be the African representative on this important Panel.”
With Masilela taking over from Acting CEO of Uniforum/ZACR Neil Dundas, to be now COO of the new ZACR, it is not known who exactly is or will be calling the shots in the South African Registry.
In any case, the entire associations that formed the history of .africa starting from dotafrica.org, AfTLD, ARC, Uniforum SA, Uniforum/ZACR and now ZACR makes for a strange confederates for a single gTLD. Are you following me?
On the other side, we know of one DotConnectAfrica, who has taken a less mysterious path.
The above media reports about Uniforum/ZACR on .africa arise as DotConnectAfrica Trust submitted an Amended Notice of Independent Review Process (‘IRP’) to the International Center for Dispute Resolution (ICDR). The IRP is a proceeding provided for in Article IV, Section 3 of the ICANN Bylaws, by which any person materially affected by a decision or action of the ICANN Board may request that the action be reviewed by an independent third party for consistency with the ICANN Bylaws and/or Articles of Incorporation.