DotConnectAfrica’s increasingly unhinged campaign for the .africa gTLD has seen it take the unusual step of complaining to the US Congress about “wholesale illegality” in the contest.
The company also appears to be running an astroturf campaign on Twitter and bogus blogs to advance its case.
In a rambling nine-page letter (pdf) to the chairs of the House and Senate telecommunications committees this week, DCA chief Sophia Bekele outlines a series of “corruption” claims against rival .africa applicant UniForum.
DCA and UniForum are both applying for .africa. UniForum, per ICANN rules, has the support of the African Union and over 60% of the national governments in Africa. DCA has no support.
As far as I can tell, DCA thinks the way the African Union went about picking a favored applicant for .africa was “corrupt” but the letter needs to be read several times in order to even begin to figure out what the allegations are.
The allegations seem to stretch back to 2011, when the AU publicly stated that it did not support DCA‘s claims to .africa, and that it had opened up an Expressions of Interest process to pick a preferred registry.
At the time, an organization called AfTLD, which represents African ccTLD operators, said it was preparing a bid for .africa. This bid later morphed into the UniForum bid.
According to information in Bekele’s letter, the AU wanted an experienced, Africa-based registry operator to run the TLD, and UniForum, which runs South Africa’s .za ccTLD, was the only qualified candidate.
DCA goes on to say that Vika Mpisane, who was both chair of AfTLD and CEO of .za policy overseer ZADNA, worked within AfTLD to have UniForum put forward as its preferred applicant for .africa.
The AU Commission, at the conclusion of its tender process, decided to support the UniForum proposal.
So what’s DCA’s beef?
Where exactly is the alleged corruption, according to DCA?
It’s almost impossible to tell from Bekele’s letter, which seems to deliberately confuse the process AfTLD used to back UniForum and the process the AU Commission used to select UniForum.
By DCA’s maddening logic, if Mpisane used his influence as chair of AfTLD to push for AfTLD to support UniForum’s bid, that means the AU Commission’s subsequent tender process was somehow corrupt.
It makes no sense to me, and I doubt it will make any sense to the dozens of US Congressmen DCA has carbon-copied on the letter.
My understanding is that DCA didn’t even bother to respond to the AU Commission’s tender anyway.
The second main prong of DCA’s new attack concerns the fact that UniForum’s bid for .africa is not a “Community” application, as defined under ICANN’s rules.
Again, DCA attempts to confuse the reader by conflating the normal everyday use of the word “community” with the special meaning of “Community” in the new gTLD program.
Bekele writes (emphasis removed):
UniForum contrived to obtain a highly valuable endorsement for a geographic name string under the pretext that it would be submitting an application on behalf of the African Community, but after obtaining the endorsement from the African Union Commission, not only failed to prepare and submit a Community TLD application for .Africa, but also failed, rather deliberately, to acknowledge the same African Community in its application that was submitted to ICANN for the .Africa gTLD name. DCA Trust believes that this was a very serious infraction on the part of UniForum ZA Central Registry.
Of course no applicant was obliged to submit a big-C Community application under ICANN’s rules, even if their gTLD purports to represent a small-c community.
Community applications are just a technicality of the ICANN program, designed to give advantages to applicants that truly do have the support of a community. There’s no need to take advantage of the mechanism if you’re applying for a geographic string and have the necessary government support.
Note also that DCA did not apply as a Community applicant either.
What does DCA want from Congress?
DCA is based in Mauritius. It appears to be complaining to the US Congress due to the US’ special oversight relationship with ICANN, and because its complaints to African governments have fallen on deaf ears.
It wants Congressional oversight of the new gTLD program, through the appointment of a special Ombudsman.
The letter says (again, emphasis removed):
We are hereby appealing directly to the United States Senate as the Upper House of the United States Congress, its Judiciary Committee, and other important Congressional committees that have a relevant stake in a successful outcome of the new gTLD process; to give the necessary approval and official impetus for the establishment of a new gTLD Program Ombudsman that would handle and look into different forms of grievances reported by new gTLD applicants; and investigate any forms of alleged irregularities and acts of illegality committed by applicants, especially of the sort that DCA Trust has outlined against its direct competitor for the .Africa gTLD, UniForum ZA Central Registry.
ICANN already has an Ombudsman, of course, Chris LaHatte. DCA complained to him late last year about two perceived conflicts of interest on the ICANN board of directors.
The complaint was dismissed last December because DCA was unable to provide LaHatte with any information about any improper actions.
LaHatte did however ask Bekele to simmer down the tone of her attacks, which she “readily agreed to”.
More fake identities?
Almost as an aside, I noticed today that a lot of similar-looking Twitter accounts (pictured) have been tweeting links with the hashtag #dotafrica this week.
The accounts all appear to have been created on Monday, using silhouette-based avatars, and have tweeted the same stuff at roughly the same time.
Is this more DCA astroturfing?
Bekele was caught out using a fake identity on the AfrICANN mailing list a few months ago.
Two of the “news blogs” these Twitter accounts have been linking to, domainingafrica.com and domainnewsafrica.com, were originally registered on November 21 2011, before disappearing behind Whois privacy last June.
The original registrant of both? Why, it’s Sophia Bekele.