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More dirty tricks questions raised in .africa saga

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2015, 08:53:45 (UTC), Domain Policy

DotConnectAfrica leaned on a former employee and used suspected astroturf in an unsuccessful attempt to have the Kenyan government support its .africa bid, newly published documents reveal.

Evidence to the .africa Independent Review Process case published for the first time by ICANN Monday night shows how DCA CEO Sophia Bekele attempted to secure Kenyan backing via a former chair of its own advisory board, who had gone on to be an adviser for Kenya on the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee.

Emails suggest that this adviser tried to support DCA, against the wishes of his superiors in the Kenyan government, while they were distracted by a contested presidential election result.

They also show that Bekele on at least two occasions sent “news” stories published on web sites she has links to to another senior Kenyan official.

The full story is not yet on the public record — ICANN is still refusing to un-redact anything that the GAC has deemed confidential, including discussions on the GAC mailing list — but some interesting questions have nevertheless emerged.

Kenya divided

Three sets of emails were published.

One was between Bekele and a newly appointed Kenyan GAC adviser, Sammy Buruchara, dating to the ICANN meeting in Beijing, April 2013.

That was the meeting at which the GAC decided, by consensus, to issue advice to the effect that DCA’s .africa application should be trashed.

If Kenya, or any other single government, had disagreed with that proposed GAC advice, it would not be “consensus” advice and would therefore be substantially weakened when the ICANN board came to consider it.

Until his GAC appointment, Buruchara had been chair of DCA’s Strategic Leadership Advisory Board. DCA press released his move in March 2013.

It’s significant that Buruchara was not Kenya’s GAC voting “representative” — that was Michael Katundu — rather merely an “adviser”.

When Bekele (pictured here with Buruchara, March 7, 2013) was cross-examined during the IRP hearings in May this year, she was asked:

Bekele Buruchara

Q. Are you and he friends?

A. No.

Emails show that Buruchara had forwarded the proposed text of the GAC advice to Bekele, who then suggested three paragraphs of text saying the advice was “inappropriate” because the African Union Commission, as backer of the rival ZACR .africa bid, was a GAC member.

That email was dated April 10 — the Wednesday of the Beijing meeting — as the GAC was preparing its communique for submission to the ICANN board the following day.

It’s not clear from the emails published so far what, if anything, Buruchara did in response.

However, the next day, April 11, it seems his Kenyan government superiors were on his case. Buruchara told Bekele:

The matter has been escalated to our Government in Kenya with false information that I am contradicting the AUC.

I have responded accordingly.

Due to the sensitivity of this matter, I wish to leave it at the level of my previous post to the GAC until the matter settles.

Currently I am expecting a call from the President any time.

Expecting a call from the president was a big deal — Uhuru Kenyatta had been inaugurated just two days earlier following a month-long “hanging chads”-style legal challenge to his March 9 presidential election victory.

Buruchara elaborated in a subsequent email:

Someone from AUC called Ndemo and made a lot of noise to the effect that I have contradicted the Heads of State agreement in Abuja, which is obviously lies.

So Ndemo is beside himself with madness owing to the current transition process.

Anyhow I will try and manage the situation as I have not anywhere contradicted AUC’s position.

The “transition” he refers to is Kenyatta’s transition into government, not the ICANN/IANA transition.

“Ndemo” was actually Bitange Ndemo, then the Kenyan permanent secretary for information and communications, somebody Bekele had been simultaneously lobbying for Kenyan government support.

Buruchara was not in Beijing. The actual GAC rep, Katundu, went along with the GAC consensus against DCA.

In fact, Kenya had already issued a GAC Early Warning (pdf) against DCA, so it was significant that Buruchara was expressing support for the company.

In a second email thread, dated July 8, 2013, Buruchara seems to acknowledge that he aided DCA in some way but suggests that was only possible because of political instability in Kenya:

I am glad to note that DCA application passed all the stages except the GNP [Geographic Names Panel].

As you know I stuck my neck out for DCA inspite of lack of Govt support by Ndemo.

Going forward, I would certainly be ready to support DCA so long as the Kenya Govt is behind me as I do not think I will have the same chances as I had last time which was because the govt was in transition

In these July emails, which came less than a week after DCA’s application was rejected by the ICANN board, Bekele encourages Buruchara to file a challenge on behalf of Kenya, and to try to recruit other friendly governments to its cause.

Nothing ever came of that.

Buruchara’s alleged actions were one of the controversial points argued over in the DCA Independent Review Process case.

Many pages of the relevant evidence and argument related to Buruchara’s actions (or lack thereof) are still redacted by ICANN as “GAC Confidential”, so we don’t have all the facts.

However, the IRP proceedings revealed that Buruchara had emailed the GAC mailing list just before Beijing kicked off with reference to .africa.

According to DCA, Buruchara “explained that Kenya supported the AUC’s application for .AFRICA but did not think it was appropriate for the AUC to utilize the GAC to eliminate competition”.

Complicating matters further, there was a third Kenyan GAC “representative” in the mix, Alice Munyua.

She had been the Kenyan GAC rep, but according to DCA had left the position prior to Beijing. She was also involved in the ZACR application and the AUC .africa project.

The record shows that she spoke strongly against DCA’s application, as Kenyan GAC rep, during a meeting between the ICANN board and GAC in Beijing, April 9.

Buruchara, according to DCA, had told the GAC mailing list that Munyua was no longer a GAC rep and that the Kenyan government did not agree with her position. He was then evidently talked out of his position by other GAC members.

It’s not clear from the record whether Munyua was an authorized Kenyan GAC rep in Beijing or not. Archive.org shows her listed on the GAC’s member list in January 2013 but not May 2013.

It’s all very confusing, in other words.

What we seem to have in Beijing, at the least, is a Kenyan GAC delegation deeply divided and the possibility that one or more delegates tried to capitalize on political distractions back home.

With a partial record, it’s difficult to tell for sure.

.africa belongs to America

What’s more clear from the emails published by ICANN this week is that despite her claims to represent the African people, Bekele on at least two occasions told Kenyan officials that African governments had no right to .africa.

In one email to Ndemo, Bekele asserts that the US, rather than African governments, “owns” .africa. She wrote:

we do not believe that it is the place of African Presidents to give AU any sort of mandate for custodianship over a .africa resource that is owned by ICANN or US… the AU cannot do an RFP that is parallel to the ICANN process to appoint a registry on behalf of Africa as if they “own the resource”, which belongs to ICANN

This is in tune with Bekele’s repeated outreach to the US Congress to intervene in the .africa controversy.

While DCA is based in Mauritius, Bekele has stated in interviews that she’s lived in California for the better part of two decades.

More astroturf?

The newly published emails also show Bekele unsuccessfully lobbying Ndemo for Kenyan government support, in part by sending him links to purportedly independent domain “news” blogs that are widely believed to be under her own control.

In February 2013, Bekele sent Ndemo links to articles published on domainnewsafrica.com and domainingafrica.com.

These two domains were originally registered by Bekele, at her California business address, on November 21, 2011.

The Whois details for both domains disappeared behind Go Daddy’s privacy service on May 12, 2012, records archived by DomainTools show.

Both web sites take strongly pro-DCA views in matters relating to .africa and ICANN. Neither covers African domain name news except to the extent it relates to DCA or .africa.

Given that Bekele has a admitted history of using bogus identities to fake support for DCA, it’s my view that the sites are nothing more than astroturf/sock-puppetry.

domainingafrica.com is the site that accused me of being part of a racial conspiracy.

It’s worrying that this site was also being used to lobby government officials.

It’s perhaps fitting that Bekele’s email signature, in the newly unredacted emails, is “Nobody believes the official spokesman… but everybody trusts an unidentified source.”

All documents in the IRP case of DCA v ICANN, many still significantly redacted, can be found here.

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Comments (37)

  1. Martin says:

    DCA already stated in its response to John Jeffery’ Legal blog that “…DCA Trust remains convinced that the entire IRP outcome should remain transparent, since no third-parties would be harmed by doing so: Read here on circle ID: http://www.circleid.com/posts/20150814_dotconnectafrica_trust_response_to_john_jeffreys_icann_legal_blog/

    Base on above, I think DCA has nothing to hide and wanted full disclosure.

    Plus, I am sure that the panel also heard and read what you wrote above as per ICANN’s argument on transcript. (as these ‘dirty trick’ questions to Sophia were raised by ICANN not the panel ).

    However, the panel ignored all that ‘dirty trick’ questions and ruled unanimously that DCA prevailed. So may I ask what your gossip column is about?

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Oh, so NOW you’re only interested in what the IRP panel actually ruled on?

      Would you like me to go back and delete all your previous comments, to ensure consistency?

      😀

      • ilampeka says:

        Murphy- you said It’s perhaps fitting that Bekele’s email signature, in the newly unredacted emails, is

        “Nobody believes the official spokesman… but everybody trusts an unidentified source.”

        You omitted the quote below which is also part of her email signature, which is the most befitting to the entire case of .africa.

        – They stole without hiding because their father is the chief of police -GR

    • Calvin Browne says:

      If DCA were interested in transparency, why did the singularly object to ZACR’s application to attend the IRP sessions as observers?

      • Martin says:

        What would be the purpose of ZACR’s request for wanting to be there? Despite DCA’s objection who probably does not want to see your face anywhere, it is very irregular that a non-party would participate in such deliberations. That is the position of the panel and not even DCA’s, which ICANN simply wants you to believe. In their responses, the panel did state that all the hearing transcripts would be transparent.

        Thanks to DCA’s objection to ICANN’s redaction and Kieren McCarthy of The Register who stood up for the transparency for the ICANN community, ICANN’s cover up was exposed.

        Despite that Murphy wanted to give himself credit on this issue – his efforts are now exposed as one seeking disclosure just to fruitlessly find “dirt” on DCA rather than assist the community.

      • ilampeka says:

        OMG, is this the Photographer Calvin Browne that is now complaining why Sophia blocked him from following her all the way to the USA to take more pictures. Imagine he could not stop badgering her at ICANN meetings there was a scandal at the Singapore meeting I believe with one of her advisors who try to stop him from harassing her that they nearly got into a fist fight and people were telling her to file a restraining order on him.

        Now that is a dangerous man. That picture must have been one of his.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          The picture came from DCA’s official Flickr page.

        • Calvin Browne says:

          It’s quite interesting that the only time the characters ‘ilampeka’ appear in this sequence on the Internet is above, and now, this post.

        • Michael K says:

          Ilampeka , obviously I see Murphy came to a quick defense of Calvin Browne (ZACR), his conspirator who probably has to denounce he did not take the picture, so blogger now has to inform us to his disappointment the picture came from DCA flickr site, instead of a paparazzi picture he wished to portray.

          Their agenda fell apart right here, the same way the “dirty tricks” line of questioning the ICANN Lawyer posed to DCA CEO with Sammy above failed to have any impact to successfully establishing his point about the GAC advise, therefore losing the IRP.
          Just to be clear, the picture came from a larger pull of pictures that is part of an album titled as “Africa ICANN MIG works Addis Ababa 6-8 March 2013 Ethiopian Dance, Addis Ababa” and taken during the trip of ICANN African Multi stakeholder IG meeting. You can find the link here https://www.flickr.com/photos/dotconnectafrica/albums/72157632967935421

          As I see it, Sophia has taken many pictures with many participants of the forum including Fadi Chehade, Tarek Kamel, and many other Africans, like many ICANN societies do. The particular picture with Sammy is one where the queen of Addis was kind enough to invite many delegated from the forum to a night out to an Ethiopian traditional dance show.

          Thanks Sophia for the great hospitality in your home country. Everything was first class by the way.

  2. Evans (DNA) says:

    Sophia is correct in articulating to the gullible Ministers the ICANN process and clarifying that the .africa, as a gTLD or any other gTLD is a resource belonging to ICANN. That would be the reason to apply .Africa under the new gTLD program and the failure for AUC to get it as a “reserved” name.

  3. Martin says:

    There is Zero “Dirt” as would DI want us to read in this transcript. I see No wrong doing, No lies, and No misrepresentation. That is why DCA won what is termed an “Accountability Review” !!!

    Certainly contrary to embarrassing McFadden files here http://tandaabiashara.com/the-mcfadden-files-how-geo-panel-evaluation-contractor-bungled-the-dot-africa-evaluation-process-to-favour-icanns-preferred-candidate/

  4. Evans (DNA) says:

    Murphy, by the way as long as your blog DomainIncite is associated with supporting anti-DCA views (which now the whole world knows), we should now be square with posting DCA views on DomainNewsAfrica.

    As long as we not misinforming by making an “Idiot” of ourselves like you admitted many times http://domainincite.com/19206-icann-finally-publishes-that-africa-letter-makes-me-look-like-an-idiot , we are happy to post DCA views and will continue to do so.

    You seem only aggrieved that DCA’s views are covered somewhere and widely read by the way, as you can’t let go of these issues. That is nasty man!

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      You’re confirming DCA thinks I’m a racist? Good to know.

      • Thomas K says:

        Kevin- As you have pointed out in your write-up, matters were further complicated by a third Kenyan GAC Representative. This Alice Munyua – the third person that you have referred to is affiliated to the ZACR Board to assist their DotAfrica project and is also claiming to represent AUC. At the time that she attended the Beijing GAC Meeting, Alice was no longer representing Kenya, but had simply attended by misrepresenting her credentials to enable her perform a hatchet job on behalf of ZACR against DCA’s application. Is this not a wrongful action that was committed by Alice Munyua and ZACR – who used their proxy to facilitate a GAC Objection Advice against DCA Trust? Instead of holding wrongdoers such as Alice, ZACR, ICANN, etc. accountable, you are trying to launch a personal attack against DCA and Sophia Bekele.

        As a journalist, you are well-advised to focus your investigation on the real wrong doers and leave this woman alone. There is no reason for you to remain vindictive simply because you claim that a certain blog called you racist. As long as you driven by personal sentiments you will never be able to write any balanced reports regarding DCA Trust for your audience.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          If I was unbalanced, why would I have mentioned Munyua at all?

          • Evans (DNA) says:

            “…Neither covers African domain name news except to the extent it relates to DCA or .africa….”

            Just as an enlightenment for you, there is really not much Domain news in Africa from occasional who stole the ccTLDs outside Africa news. It is pretty much a no news boring subject, except .Africa which has been glamourized by DCA’s CEO in her efforts to make Africa an attractive domain, which in my opinion she succeeded so well, that you and your sponsored blogs at DI that champion ZACR’s views are trying to kill her.

            Even the recent DNS conference in Kenya, did not generate any new news, aside from the usual we can’t get anything done due to ccTLD capacity talks.

            Anyone can send us news items on African domains we are willing to post, but no great readership like the controversial and precedence setting .africa IRP case, which I presume you also try to make though in support of ZACR /ICANN views. So we are even man, no hard feelings on our side.

  5. Linda A says:

    DCA successfully obtained and Kenya government legitimately endorsed DCA bid for .africa as of August 2012 which is independent of Mr. Buruchara and outside of any GAC activities as per the endorsement. What is all these noise about?

  6. Calvin Browne says:

    Jeez Kevin, you know how to bring out the shills and sock puppets.

  7. Gideon says:

    Kevin Murphy, you are making it look like Sophia Bekele’s lobbying for Kenyan government support is a bad thing. Meanwhile what she did is very normal, based on every known yardstick. Moreover, DCA Registry Services is based in Kenya and this is an important investment for Kenya that benefits Kenyans and the other Kenyan corporate partners of DCA. So the Government of Kenya should naturally support DCA, even without DCA lobbying or asking for it. That is why DCA Trust got the endorsement of Kenya in 2012.

  8. Gideon says:

    There is no conflict between Sophia Bekele’s claim that DotConnectAfrica is for the benefit of the people of Africa and her assertion that .Africa as an Internet resource that belongs to ICANN – the organization that is empowered to delegate the .Africa new gTLD.

    Therefore, the statement you have quoted that “ the AU cannot do an RFP that is parallel to the ICANN process to appoint a registry on behalf of Africa as if they “own the resource”, which belongs to ICANN remains valid. Nobody would quarrel over that.

    Sophia has only stated what can be defended. The AUC is not the steward of the new gTLD program. ICANN is and even ICANN will agree with Sophia.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      ICANN delegated power over geographic gTLDs to the relevant governments.

      Fact.

      DCA doesn’t like that, because the governments all hate DCA, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

      • Gideon says:

        FACT

        Governments already have their ccTLDs, and only have the power to endorse geographic name strings – under th new gTLD program;

        and governments cannot hate DCA since they all endorsed DCA at the beginning – until the saboteurs came to work. It is saboteurs who hate and not the governments.

  9. Martin says:

    On this one…”Bekele has stated in interviews that she’s lived in California for the better part of two decades.”

    I am not sure why you bring this up repeatedly. Sophia was born and raised in Ethiopia and she is African period and no one will take that away from her.

    Moreover, in her own capacity, she satisfied all the eligibility requirements to apply for .Africa. The DCA registry is based in Africa and the company is an African organization. The technology transfer is to Africa. Africans are working in the company. She came up with a brilliant governance model for .Africa that is not only global, but also meets all African local content requirements and inputs and participation. So what is Africa losing simply because Sophia is involved in .Africa, nothing.

    I have no idea what you are hanging on to, but even all the Africa media that has her on their TV stations were all recorded while she was on the African soil.

    She is the one who single handedly promoted .Africa globally, until your friends did a cuckoo business model on her. Have you forgotten what you wrote about three years ago? I can’t imagine that you are trying to say her successful championing of her Yes2dotaAfrica campaign for years, or any of her contribution for Africa including her various entrepreneurial efforts being done “Out of Africa” ?

    Here is her latest media response if you want to know how she also works http://berkeleyhaasabf.wix.com/abf2015#!keynote/c12sr ) should not strip her from the contributions she has and is making in Africa. In fact majority of her entrepreneurial work is recorded in Africa and she has been contributing a lot.

    So, I would really like to know what you are trying to represent or misrepresent from your position of an anti-DCA campaigner?

    Unless of course ZACR is telling you that the someone has to be a permanent resident of Africa to get an award or better yet South Africa like their discriminatory job posting that was announced for the CEO of a “.Africa” Registry must be a South African National, Link https://registry.net.za/content.php?wiki=1&contentid=99 so the monetary benefits is not exported anywhere in Africa? How ridiculous is that now for a continental registry, notwithstanding the so many overtrusting African Internet Community that lobbied on their behalf hoping to get a bread crumb our of ZACR. Shame!

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Don’t you think all the millions DCA has pissed away on its deliberately obstructionist .africa bid could have been better spent, if DCA really gave a damn about Africa?

      • ilampeka says:

        Your assessment is rather incorrect. DCA has not been obstructionist. To the contrary, DCA is the one being obstructed – through different connivances – which you already know. DCA was eligible to apply for the string and it applied; and has so far been protecting its rights that are being violated anyhow by other people.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          I actually had the idea for .africa in 1999, long before DCA even existed.

          I didn’t tell anyone, of course. I’m not mad.

          However, after reading the Applicant Guidebook (you really should too) I decided against applying. I realized that no African governments supported me and I thought it would be a terrible waste of time and money to apply for something the rules unambiguously prevented me from winning.

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