.africa debacle: DotConnectAfrica writes to newly elected African Union Leaders raising ethical questions

From the The Reporter Ethiopia DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Trust has written to the new AU leadership raising ethical and accountability issues on how the endorsement process was handled from its inception within the African Union institution.

In the letter dated August 2, 2013 the Company asks the AU leadership to “review and investigate the role that the AU has played in directly supporting one particular bid and campaigning against another, in the .Africa internet domain and how this has come to be.”

The letter requests a through ‘dig’ into the procedure that led to Uniforum ZACR to be selected by the African Union and its application to ICANN. This letter is similar to the one sent to the US Congress on February 20, 2013, stating,“There is preponderant evidence to now suggest that UniForum ZA Central Registry was not appointed by the African Union Commission based on the outcome of a truly transparent and accountable RFP-based tender process”  and continues to say

“The subsequent appointment received by UniForum through a process that we believe was corrupted provided UniForum with further advantages that also allowed it to obtain additional letters of endorsement from different African Countries to enable it satisfy the requirement of governmental support necessary for applying for a geographical TLD”

The company, DCA Trust, has also requested the authority for an interrogation into activities of lack of transparency and accountability that have unfortunately ‘legitimized’ an organization that did not do its due diligence to the African public by all means. In the letter DCA faults the AU for not upholding the Endorsement given in 2009 and in an attempt to “own” .africa, has created an RFP process that was flawed.
The letter also explains how the AU was got interested in the name after endorsing DCA initially saying: “AU wanted to “own” the .Africa gTLD. However, ICANN explained to them that this was not possible as all gTLD would be administered under a specific program that was being independently administered under their supervision.”
Following that response from ICANN, the AU then decided that an RFP would be issued to select a partner to bid on behalf of the African Community. The Company explains in the letter why it could not participate in RFP process by saying:

“Unfortunately this RFP process was so problematic that we could not participate. This decision was taken in light of the original endorsement by your AU predecessor (Jean Ping), the ICANN requirements versus RFP and the need to keep our business plan confidential. Our view was that ICANN had a process to follow and the AU RFP represented a conflicting parallel process. Recognizing the highly technical nature of the bid and the 18 month assessment that ICANN provides indicates that a one month AU process would be a challenge to succeed. This is further complicated by a review panel which may have drawn from a limited pool of internet experts, who have vested interest in the context of the bidding process and outcome of .africa.”

The three main issues that was raised by the Company include a) that the AU originally endorsed DotConnectAfrica, however a lobby group of vested interested parties encouraged AU to first engage directly with ICANN to take ownership of .Africa – a situation that ICANN would not accept. b) they Issued an RFP to identify a partner would submit on behalf of the “African Community”, where the .africa is designated as a generic TLD and not a community – and c) although the AU Press Releases gave an appearance of transparency it is clear that the RFP process did not follow the basic tendering rules needed in a competitive bid.

In its response to ICANN Governmental Committee who try to raise issues on behalf of the AU, the Company demanded an accountability, requesting full disclosure of the same listing over 10 items:

1. which firms and organizations participated in the EOI,
2. what they had each proposed;
3. how they were evaluated,
4. what merit-based system was employed in the evaluation of the respective proposals,
5. the relative scores obtained by each evaluated participant,
6. the final rankings and how the decision was arrived at to select UniForum South Africa as ‘an African-based registry’;
7. the final evaluation committee minutes that were taken during the meeting to decide on the selection,
8. the names of those who assented to those minutes;
9. the decision of the AU Tenders Board to approve the selection of UniForum S.A.
10. and the official signatories to that decision
11. and finally make a full disclosure of all these through a public media announcement.

The questions above however were never responded to. In its letter to the AU, the Company therefore has requested that the pertinent issues be sorted out, stating the AU leadership to 1. Investigate the circumstances surrounding the issuance and conduct of the RFP. 2. Review subsequent award to Uniforum. This review should reference AU’s own procurement policies and internationally accepted practice. 3. Review Uniforum’s Private Application to ICANN versus a “Community” clearly envisaged by the wider African groupings. 4. Propose any necessary actions to be taken by AU to correct ICANN GAC advisory that may have been given on the basis of incomplete information.

These requests will hopefully be investigated this time and provide concrete answers to the African public, not only on the issue of accountability of the process, but how the AU even got to be involved in the .africa bid process.

According to the ICANN guidebook, there is nothing that states that AUC or an African Intergovernmental organization has the authority to endorse a company intending to apply for a geographic string to get governmental approval. Rather it states that regions listed as a UNESCO region or appearing on the “Composition of macro geographical (continental) regions, geographical sub-regions, and selected economic and other groupings” list. In this case DotConnectAfrica has in its custody the endorsement of UNECA, however approving authorities within ICANN stopped the process before DCA would even be evaluated by the Geographic Review Panel. It’s understood that all applications ought to pass through all the panels irrespective of their status.

The .africa applicant DCA Trust has in many cases asserted that ICANN’s actions have all been made and informed by the fear of AU reacting negatively rather than following the due process as interpreted in the ICANN Applicant Guidebook.“Regretfully this GAC objection advice to ICANN for our .Africa application was has been subjected to a clearly orchestrated campaign by members of GAC including the Africa Union (a GAC observer) against our application.”, the company has said.

It appears that the ICANN Governmental Committee has some house cleaning to do in much of our research where the global internet community has voiced its concerns as to how its conducts its affairs. It seem that the Governmental Committee need to properly also resuscitate its credibility by creating systems of accountability within its operations to streamline its effectiveness and minimize embarrassing controversial decisions that come off due to conflicting interests and not following the ICANN rules. Despite the final decisions of accepting their advise rests with the ICANN Board, which seem to suffer issues of same.

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