LERATO MA – Joan of Arc of .africa: A case of anonymity and not a fake identity

A recent case of anonymous identity has attracted a buzz of discussions in a certain African email forum managed by the African IP addressing organization, Afrinic. At the time of discovery, the owner of the online Identity Lerato Ma, defended her use of the “pseudo-name” and attributed it to constant harassment and a case of being blocked from participation.

Ms Sophia Bekele who is behind the name Lerato Ma gave her reasons saying that her real ID had been blocked and due to hatred.  Her full response to the issue when contacted by DomainIncite was as below, which she also copied the African list.

This is not a big deal. However, they are trying to blow it out of proportion and create a huge controversy out of it. Even authors write books under Pseudo name. 

The name Sophia Bekele appears to agitate them on the list and get them in Frenzy. They have even blocked “Sophia Bekele” ID on the list in the past and did not allow me to post, which was only resolved by someone’s intervention.This is a well known fact on the list and they claimed technical problems on their side. This is because they did not consider me part of their community. The open display of hatred, aggression and personal anonymity towards my person and DCA is compelling me to post under Lerato Ma.

While its not a crime to use a pseudo-name, the stance incensed some members of the list who also happen to be DCA’s strong opponents on .africa calling it a case of “fake identity” or “sockpuppy”.

Well there are several known cases of use of pseudo-names for various reasons, mostly when users seek to protect their identity, and in this particular case, it was apparent the name was used to circumvent the alleged blocking of the “real name” from the list. The list managers, who happen to be opponents of DCA, claimed not to have blocked her, however, could not adequately establish the fact that they did not block her name.

The list, reputed for use of crude language in its interactions, with no published code of conduct or ethics for participation, could be said not to have tolerance of any persons holding divergent views than the usual who dominate the conversations.

A particular documented famous case of Sock-puppet was in 2011, a Californian company, Ntrepid, which was awarded a $2.76 million contract under the auspices of US Central Command for “online persona management” operations with the aim of creating “fake online personas to influence net conversations and spread US propaganda” in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto.

While DCA’s opponents want to make Lerato Ma a “sock-puppet case implying a deceptive identity”, Lerato Ma’s relation with DCA was well known on the list, as the ID was registered with a “dotconnectafrica.org” email address, and its affiliation directly related with the puppeteer, therefore, nullifying their case over a sock-puppy.

Individuals appearing in public as Anonymous, wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

It is more likely however that the case of Lerato Ma fits the scenarios of “Anonymous” a loosely associated hacktivist group.  Estimated to have originated in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, representing the concept of many online and offline community.  Generally considered to be a blanket term for members of certain Internet subcultures, a way to refer to the actions of people in an environment where their actual identities are not known. It strongly opposes Internet censorship and surveillance. Its members can be distinguished in public by the wearing of styled Guy Fawkes masks.

DotConnectAfrica, who have filed many public cases and run No campaigns for being denied fair opportunity to present their cases on .africa, seem to feel necessitated to the use of this anonymous identity to fight for internet freedom, and the tough case of defending its application, to one of most attractive domain. The DCA Principal has been at the center of this Internet War.

Having openly campaigned for the .africa gTLD for the past six years, and DCA’s alienation and victimization by the small group of internet community that wants the same TLD has been in the public domain from Dakar Africa to USA at ICANN, Prague and recently in ICANN Toronto International meeting.

The use of Lerato Ma anonymous identity therefore, seem necessitated to prevent the continuation of victimization of DCA Principle in the face of such adversity, where the real email address was allegedly blocked nearly two years ago, reportedly, at the time the anonymous ID was set up.

The list source available publicly also presents no evidence of the ID used to doing harm and/or even promote DCA’s application to ICANN, but rather in defense to the heckling of DCA opponents to withdraw its .africa application. Other notable use of the ID was to defend racist remarks from a certain notorious subscriber by the name Dr. E Lisse, a Gynecologist by profession yet the .NA ccTLD manager, who is a Uniform supporter  calling Africans blatantly “clueless.

 

Joan of Arc Painting, ca. 1485. An artist’s interpretation, since the only known direct portrait has not survived.

Some list members commented and fear that this African list which may be under the watch of the AfTLD management could be a source of serious prying and spying that may have taken away the trust of privacy of personal communications and personal freedoms and open philosophies.  Africa especially in the just ended WCIT conference in Dubai was in support of governmental gagging and especially South Africa, which even signed up for the controversial treaty.

The .africa issue has come along way through several phases. The AU case of taking lead in the processes of the .africa as a forerunner, as recommended by its Task Force, instead of an observer takes away the principles of any transparency and translates it to the case akin to the invasion of privacy on email and domain activities, especially if it gets an opportunity to oversite the .africa gTLD. This will be detrimental to the African Domain business and goes off the interest of the consumers and registrars.

Uniforum a South African company was highhandedly appointed by the AU as the preferred candidate to apply for the .africa gTLD, as a result of an agreement by UNIFORUM to give exclusive rights of the .africa TLD to AU, through a separate contract presumably after its application is approved by ICANN.  The AU had initially placed forward an RFP that saw one of the applicants DCA decline to participate, stating openly the RFP requirements subverted the ICANN’s mandate as well as the conflict of Interest issues concerning the AU dotAfrica Taskforce advisors who has expressed support of the Uniforum Bid.

Finally, amongst this dark drama of .africa, therein emerges the case of Joan of Arc of .africa or as the French would say Jeanne d’Arc .afrique by the opponents of DotConnectAfrica. Much to the noise they made, Lerato Ma is neither a case of fake identity or sock-puppy. Sad but true.

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