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DotConnectAfrica — disconnected from reality?

Kevin Murphy, July 26, 2012, 08:56:34 (UTC), Domain Registries

DotConnectAfrica’s campaign for .africa (or .dotafrica, depending who you talk to) is getting increasingly weird.

As you may recall, DCA is the Mauritius-based company, headed by the charismatic and telegenic entrepreneur Sophia Bekele, which has been campaigning for a .africa gTLD for the last few years.

It “accidentally” applied for “.dotafrica” — a sign of almost mind-boggling incompetence — instead of the intended “.africa”, but remains confident that ICANN will allow it to change its application to correct the error.

Despite these failings, the firm has put a lot of hard work raising the profile of the .africa gTLD, for which it should be commended. Unfortunately, it’s not going to win.

If anyone is going to get the .africa registry contract, it’s the other applicant: Uniforum, the South African ccTLD registry.

Despite this painful truth, DCA appears to be in denial.

Take this op-ed, published yesterday on CircleID.

In it, somebody from DCA (the piece does not have a byline) states:

DotConnectAfrica remains a strong contender for the DotAfrica string name and actually stands the best chance of being awarded the mandate to operate the .AFRICA gTLD registry

What’s the basis for this confidence?

[DCA] has adhered to, and respected all the guidelines of the new gTLD programme, in addition to accepting ICANN’s oversight of the entire process, unlike UniForum which might be penalized for wrongly attributing the rights of DotAfrica gTLD to the AU [African Union] instead of ICANN in direct contravention of the new gTLD programme guidelines

DCA is essentially saying that ICANN, and not the African Union, should be the body that gets to decide who should run .africa.

That’s true. It’s also complete rubbish.

Nobody, not even DCA, denies that .africa is a “geographic” gTLD application, as defined by the Applicant Guidebook.

You may have noticed that in the current new gTLD round there are no applications that are both “geographic” and contested by multiple applicants. There’s a good reason for that.

According to ICANN’s rules: “If an applicant has applied for a gTLD string that is a geographic name (as defined in this Guidebook), the applicant is required to submit documentation of support for or non-objection to its application from the relevant governments or public authorities.”

Geographic gTLDs only get approved if the government(s) of that geographic region don’t object, in other words.

These letters of support or non-objection are not being published by ICANN, but the public record has quite a bit to say about which governments support which bids.

In the case of .africa, which covers a lot of countries, ICANN requires letters of support or non-objection from 60% of the nations concerned, and no more than one letter of objection from a government.

Uniforum executives told me recently that the company has this 60% support. It also has the explicit, exclusive, unambiguous support of the African Union Commission.

Here’s what the AU has to say on the matter (pdf):

the AU Commission selected UniForum SA (the ZA Central Registry Operator or ZACR), to administer and operate dotAfrica gTLD on behalf of the African community. The endorsement of the ZACR is the only formal endorsement provided by the African Union and its member’s states with regard to dotAfrica.

If DotConnectAfrica wanted to scupper the Uniforum bid, its best bet would be to lobby African governments that are not already supporting Uniforum — such as those that are not members of the AU — in order to secure more than one letter of objection.

That wouldn’t give DCA a chance to win .africa — contested geographic gTLDs do not go to auction — but it would mean Uniforum’s bid would be rejected for want of support.

But DCA is taking a different — and completely inexplicable — approach.

In a June press release, which tried and failed to explain why DCA applied for .dotafrica instead of .africa, the company said:

Uniforum should really be worrying about the more serious problem it has on its hand, to wit: the agreement signed with the AU is with Uniforum SA/ZA Central Registry, but the putative registry operator/applicant for ‘Africa’ is UniForum SA trading as Registry.Africa.

Where is UniForum SA trading as Registry.Africa’s endorsement for ‘Africa’ gTLD? Is it the specious letter of appointment to apply for DotAfrica gTLD, or the purported agreement between the AU and Uniforum SA/ZA Central Registry? DCA Trust will be watching closely to see how UniForum will try to correct these documentation problems to ensure that no illegal acts are committed.

Did you understand that?

DCA is saying that because Uniforum plans to operate .africa under a standard “doing business as” brand of Registry.Africa — something fully disclosed in its gTLD application — its official letter of support from the AU is somehow open to debate.

To make the company look even more out of touch, DCA has recently had an unhealthy focus on the “insidious mass media manipulation” campaign that it reckons Uniforum has been waging against it. Presumably this blog post can be added to that file at DCA HQ.

I’m struggling to recall where I’ve witnessed such nutty PR before.

Oh, wait.

DotConnectAfrica, yesterday

If DCA wants to be taken seriously it’s going to have to explain — in plain, unobfuscated English — one of two things:

1) Which governments support its application (and this letter from 2009 doesn’t count).

2) Why the 60% rule does not apply to its .africa bid.

Until either of those things are clarified, DCA’s messaging is just a confusing mess.

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Comments (8)

  1. zack says:

    “You may have noticed that in the current new gTLD round there are no applications that are both “geographic” and contested by multiple applicants. There’s a good reason for that.”

    You mean except for .OSAKA?

  2. Simon says:

    Dear Writer , Is this a report or an opinion piece ? Whatever. The saga of .Africa is certainly confusing to many as evidenced by this article which purports to be some sort of journalism.

    It’s clearly biased although it uses a trick of some positive comment about Sophia Bekele to give the impression of balance. Is the photo a representation of a spokesman for Uniforum?

    Good luck with your confusion!

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      It’s an opinion piece backed up by facts.

      If you’d like to dispute any of the facts, please do.

      I will correct any errors.

    • Jay Daley says:

      Dear S, Now that we know that aliases are being used, it is only fair to ask – are you really ‘Simon’ or someone else using an alias?

      Kevin of course has a record of the IP address that each comment originates from.

  3. DCA’s .dotafrica application was obviously an error, as unforgivable as it might be.

    I think DCA should have applied for something else since their AU ‘support’ is outdated. The support for Registry.Africa is bigger and more relevant as the author has proved. I just feel uncomfortable with the rancor knowing fully well that the two organizations could put their ego aside and work together for the best of Africa.

  4. Ramo B says:

    The incompetence is not limited to getting the gTLD string wrong. In their application they have not managed to state their OWN place of business correctly, rather it is a mish-mash of their Mauritius & Kenyan addresses.

    I kid you not:

    “DotConnectAfrica Trust 1st Floor, River Court, 6 St. Denis Street,DCA Registry (Kenya) Ltd: c⁄o CIC Plaza; Upperhill, Nairobi Kenya Tel: 254 020 2731141⁄2⁄3⁄4Port Louis, Mauritius P.O. Box 1079,MU”

    The rest of the application reads like an inconsistent hash job.

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