AfTLD, an organization of African country-code top-level domain operators, has announced its intention to apply to ICANN for the .africa TLD.
The initiative appears to be different to and competitive with the best-known .africa applicant to date, Sophia Bekele’s DotConnectAfrica.
Vika Mpisane, AfTLD’s chairman and general manager of South Africa’s .za ccTLD, said in a press release:
We are not just interested in .africa only, but we want to also take on .afrique, which is the French version of .africa. It’s only natural for us to do this because at least 50% of Africa speaks French. We also intend to have an internationalised version of .africa as well because we have significant Arabic Africa population, but we will start definitely with .africa first.
AfTLD shortly intends to announce a “leading registry services provider” to run its back-end, but indicated that in future it would expect to run the registry from within Africa.
The current version of ICANN’s new TLDs Applicant Guidebook sets the bar for a .africa bid very high, in practice possibly requiring near-universal governmental support.
A bidder for this kind of protected geographic term would require letters of support from 60% of the nations concerned. For Africa, as the Guidebook defines it, that’s about 34 countries.
However, crucially, if more than one African government were to object in writing to any given .africa application, that bid could be killed off.
AfTLD has 24 ccTLD registry members. They’re not all government-run TLDs, of course, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that it already has 24 countries on board.
A key question is whether endorsement of a bid by the African Union could be interpreted as blanket approval from all of its 53 member governments. I don’t think that’s a given, under the letter of the Guidebook.
But if it is, DotConnectAfrica may already be there. It has a signed letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, dated August 2009, that endorses its specific bid.