Single Internet Space for Africa

When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) resolved in June 2008 at its Paris conference to open up the Internet and introduce new namespaces (what we call “top level domains” or “TLDs”), the global Internet and other industries took keen notice.

ICANN’s decision triggered furious moves and lobbying within the domain name industry. Not everyone supported its decision: for some, TLDs such as .com, .net and .org were still “perfectly fine” and there was no need for new namespaces. Yet for others, ICANN’s decision presented a unique opportunity for promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, competition and choice.

For some, the opportunity to acquire new Internet namespaces allowed them to correct the wrongs of the past, and to properly position communities online in more innovative ways. If you’re in Africa, this view tends to hold sway because from the inception of the Internet, the acquisition of valuable Internet domain names in generic TLDs such as .com and .net was dominated by the developed world. Africa was still far behind at the time to understand the value and importance of domain names.

With ICANN accepting applications for new TLDs in early 2012, the African Internet community did not want to be left behind. dotAfrica (.africa) was seen as a critical namespace that can help uniquely identify Africa online. What’s more clear was the emphasis on having the .africa domain name operated from Africa using African technology. This would help send a clear message to the rest of the global domain name industry: that Africa has now moved from being a consumer to an active player in the provision of critical domain name infrastructure on the same par as any best-of-class players.

The entry of the African Union Commission (AUC) was an important driver behind the success of dotAfrica. The AUC provided leadership and helped avoid a repetition of having a unique African Internet identifier falling in the hands of non-African private companies. The AUC made it clear that the .africa operator should be an African entity with a suitable African technology. Hence the endorsement of ZA Central Registry (ZACR) by the AUC enjoys the greatest support of the African Internet community as the ZACR meets this important requirement.

The subsequent .africa application to ICANN no doubt enjoyed the important political support of most African governments. ZACR had no problem meeting ICANN’s requirement of having at least 60% of African governments supporting the application. In fact, more than 40 African governments readily supported the AUC-endorsed ZACR application.

ZACR

ZACR’s ability to establish and operate .africa using its own technology and infrastructure was not questionable – more so because the same company has overseen the steady growth of the co.za domain to almost a million domain names to date. Noting this good record, the .ZA Domain Name Authority (ZADNA) had already designated ZACR to provide a centralized registry platform from which most .ZA 2nd level domains could be operated.

The success of the .africa application in passing ICANN’s strict initial evaluation (comprising of financial, legal, operation and technical factors) in 2013 provided further testimony that the AUC’s decision to endorse ZACR for .africa was a well-thought and justifiable reason.

Now that ICANN has given the .africa TLD the go ahead, Africa is now anticipating when the web addresses will be available. 2014 is the year that Africa will finally have its single, unique Internet namespace that African organizations, peoples and governments can use with great confidence. Of course, the launch of .africa – anticipated to be in April 2014 – will be a gradual, staged process because of the ICANN stipulations for all the new TLD applicants.

The April 2014 launch will allow ICANN registered intellectual property owners a first-mover advantage to register their trademark names ahead of everybody else. ICANN strictly stipulates this in its new TLD Applicant Guidebook. Intellectual property owners are not the only ones meant to enjoy this first-mover advantage: in the case of geographic TLDs such as .africa, the Guidebook also requires governments to be given an opportunity to first reserve their country names and names of national importance prior to the launch of new TLDs.

The dotAfrica team is hard at work on the reserved name list process, and by the close of 2013 a reasonable number of African governments will have already started submitting their reserved name lists. What this means is that 2014 is the year Africa will finally have its respectable online home – an Internet namespace that will finally have all of Africa in one space.

But this is not the only benefit of the AUC-endorsed dotAfrica project: the commitments to use a substantial percentage of the .africa funds to build the African registrar community, to support African country code TLDs (ccTLDs) – for example (Egypt), .ke (Kenya), .ng (Nigeria), .zm (Zambia), etc. – and to drive the growth of African digital content industries remain a focal point.

.africa is primed to leave a lasting legacy in the African Internet community because of these commitments. The fact ZACR – the .africa operator – is a not-for-profit company and will therefore run dotAfrica on a cost recovery basis means that all surplus funds will be invested in growing the African domain name industry.

Accordingly, as 2014 dawns upon us, so do new unique web addresses dawn upon us. 2014 is the year we will start to see such web addresses as visit.africa, kilimanjaro.africa, and business.africa. 2014 is the year that Africa finally realizes its dream of a single namespace that all African businesses and people call really call “our online home”!

For more information on .africa, please go to dotAfrica.

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