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Unbelievably, .africa will be contested

The .africa top-level domain may well be unique — the only geographic gTLD to be contested.

DotConnectAfrica, which has been campaigning for .africa for years, has confirmed that it has applied for the string, despite the fact that another bidder has support of the African Union.

DCA chief Sophia Bekele blogged:

because of the history of the DotAfrica gTLD and our experience during the ‘Yes2DotAfrica’ promotional campaign, we anticipate a prolonged process

The AU in February announced that it was providing its support to a .africa application from UniForum, the South African ccTLD registry.

DCA had previously secured what appeared to be a letter of support from an AU official, but it has since been withdrawn.

According to ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, if you want to run a geographic gTLD representing multiple countries, you need the express support or non-objection of 60% of those countries.

I’m pretty certain DCA doesn’t have this support, but the AU’s membership does include more than 60% of the nations in Africa.

Is DCA applying in order to get a pay-off from the Uniforum bid? It’s possible, but without the required government support its negotiating position appears to be pretty weak.

Expect objections.

Sedari working on .africa gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2012, Domain Registries

Sedari has been contracted to support the controversial African Union-backed .africa top-level domain application.

The new gTLD specialist will supply UniForum with its usual suite of financial, technical and policy support services, Sedari said today.

South Africa-based UniForum was given approval for its .africa bid by the AU last week, raising questions over a longstanding rival application by DotConnectAfrica.

UniForum is already responsible for South Africa’s .za country-code top-level domain.

UniForum selected for .africa gTLD app

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2012, Domain Registries

UniForum, the South African .za domain name registry operator, has reportedly been selected to run the proposed .africa generic top-level domain.

The African Union announced the appointment today, following a December tender, according to a report on MyBroadband.co.za.

In a sane world, the deal would sound the death-knell for DotConnectAfrica’s long-running campaign to run .africa, but DCA recently has been making noises about applying with or without AU support.

The ICANN Applicant Guidebook is pretty clear when it comes to .africa – it’s a protected geographic term that will require the support of 60% of the affected nations to be approved.

It’s less clear whether AU backing can proxy for individual letters of support from all of those nations, but it’s certainly better than no government support at all.

However, if DCA can get two African governments to object to the AU-backed bid, it might stand a chance at getting a piece of the .africa action.

DCA had a letter of support from the AU dated August 2009, but it was retracted last year. The company has spent the last several months alleging cronyism as a result.

UniForum doesn’t have the best technical reputation in the world. It has managed the .za registry since 1995 but it only switched to an automated, EPP-based shared registry system last year.

Before August 2011, .co.za registrations apparently had to be carried out via email. Let’s hope its new EPP system is up to ICANN’s exacting standards for new gTLDs.

African Union yanks .africa bid support, seeks registries

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2011, Domain Policy

The African Union has called for registry operators to express their interest in managing the proposed .africa top-level domain.

It has also confirmed that it is not currently backing DotConnectAfrica’s longstanding bid to apply to ICANN to operate .africa.

DCA has for some time been touting its support from a number of African governments, including the AU, which is required for a geographic TLD bid to be approved by ICANN.

But the AU said in a statement last week:

The AU Commission was at some point approached by an organization now known as DCA seeking endorsement and support for in its bid to use of the domain name.

The AU Commission would like to hereby categorically state that it is not supporting any one individual or organization in this bid.

The statement glosses over the August 2009 letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, which offers to aid DCA with its efforts to gain government support for .africa.

With its support for DCA no longer applicable, the AU yesterday issued its official call for Expressions of Interest from experienced registry operators:

DotAfrica will serve a community which spans over a large portion of region, therefore providing registrants with accrued possibilities for establishing their Internet presence. It is expected that the Africa small and medium size enterprises will greatly benefit from DotAfrica, as they thrive beyond their local markets to invade the regional and continental marketplace.

The EOI does not set out any guidance on what the AU expects to see in a proposal – it doesn’t even specify whether it’s looking for a sponsor or a back-end operator – it merely asks for audited financial statements and a potted corporate bio.

The deadline for the EOI is June 3.

The .africa bid has become fiercely political recently, with DCA throwing around accusations of corruption and back-room dealing.

Its outrage has been centered largely on an AU task force on .africa that was created last November, and its chairman, Nii Quaynor.

He is the registrant of dotafrica.org, which was previously used in a .africa bid that competed with DCA’s.

Other task force members are involved with AfTLD, the African ccTLD association that has also announced it is preparing a .africa bid.

In a blog post this week, DCA calls for the task force to be abandoned.

“Corruption” claims as .africa fight heats up

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2011, Domain Policy

The fight for the right to run .africa as a top-level domain has been heating up in recent weeks, culminating today in claims of “corruption” and “large-scale illegality”.

A organization called DotConnectAfrica has been mustering support for .africa for a few years, but since March it has faced a rival bid from AfTLD, an association of African country-code TLDs.

The contest has already degenerated into quite a fierce war of words, with allegations of corruption coming from one side and counter-claims of FUD coming from the other.

DCA claims the AfTLD initiative is using “double-dealing” to “unfairly” win the endorsement of the African Union, while AfTLD says DCA is using “intimidation” to get its way.

Under ICANN’s proposed rules, any entity that wants to apply for a TLD purporting to represent a large geographic region must secure the support of 60% of the nations in that region.

It’s not explicit, but it’s quite possible that African Union support may cover this requirement. Backing from the AU therefore could be the deal-breaker for .africa bidders.

DCA has a letter, signed by AU Commission chair Jean Ping, dated August 2009, which offers to support the DCA application.

But there’s good reason to believe that this support may have been revoked last year, and that the AU Commission has opened up its options once more.

The Commission last November annnounced (pdf) a new Task Force, charged with finding an entity to act as the official applicant for .africa when the ICANN new gTLD program opens.

DCA seems to believe that this Task Force has been captured by supporters of the rival AfTLD bid. In a press release today, it says:

there is a dangerous nexus between a certain cabal within the AU Task Force on Dot Africa and the AfTLD – and this nexus has been established in order to disingenuously facilitate ‘insider’ help for AfTLD’s Expression of Interest to the AU and prospective bid to ICANN.

The release goes on to make a number of allegations, such as:

AU Task Force members on DotAfrica are also advisors and confederates of AfTLD. DCA believes that such affiliations are unwholesome and foster corruption, nepotism, abuse of office, and large-scale illegality.

DCA appears to be concerned (to put it lightly), that some of the members of the AU Commission Task Force appear to have conflicts of interest.

The Task Force’s chair, Pierre Dandjinou, and its vice-chair, Nii Quaynor (a former ICANN director) have both previously put their names to a different and now apparently defunct .africa project that also intended to compete with DCA for .africa.

Another member of the Task Force, Abibu Ntahigiye, manager of Tanzania’s .tz domain, also appears to sit on the executive committee of AfTLD as its treasurer.

I’m not sure if any of this cross-pollination meets the definition of “corruption” or “illegality”, but I can understand why DCA is worried.

The DCA press release follows an AfTLD meeting in Ghana last month at which attendees were urged to “don’t believe what others claim” and “entertain no intimidation” when it comes to the .africa contest.

A presentation (pdf) delivered by AfTLD general manager Vika Mpisane says: “AfTLD, just like the AU, recognizes no any alleged pre-endorsements of any alleged bidder by the AU.”

Mpisane has been quoted recently heavily implying that DCA plans to put its commercial interests before the good of Africans, saying:

On one side is the self-serving commercial interest that some entities are already championing; these are entities that are in it purely for the money; on the other side is a community-serving commercial interest that most of the African internet community prefers.

AfTLD says it recently closed an RFP for a back-end registry provider to join its bid for .africa (and .afrique, which it also plans to apply for) and will announce the winner soon.

The AU Commission is expected to launch an RFP for a registry manager to endorse.