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DCA had a letter of support from the AU dated August 2009, but it was retracted last year.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.

“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.

Competition for .africa heats up

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Registries

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.

AfTLD said that it plans to seek a mandate for .africa from the Commission of the African Union. It also expects to discuss forming a company to manage the bid at a meeting in Ghana next month.

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.