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The windy road to Africa’s gTLD (.africa)

July 30, 2012  »  WebNo Comment

Proponents say the .africa domain has the power to unify the continent by encouraging the creation of online content. Critics fear it will do little to improve the overall state of the African Internet. However, the implementation of .africa is far from near, even if the planned date of operation is next year (2013).

First proposed in 1997 by Tierno S. Bah, the dotAfrica project aims to create a single .africa domain. It hopes to serve as a stronger unifying force than country-level domains (ccTLDs) which were often neglected in favor of .com registrations. Apart from technically unifying the continent via DNS infrastructure, the hope is that Africans will rally around the new domain to create new online content. The domain will presumably strengthen all faces of the Africa brand – from economy, business, trade, administration, health, culture, education, technology.

Currently, there exist only 22 generic top-level domains, but soon hundreds more will join the likes of .com and .org. On June 13, 2012, ICANN revealed 1,930 gTLD applications. Successful applications will become operational beginning in 2013.

Attention surrounding the prospects of a truly African domain brand has remained steady since ICANN finalized the recent gTLD plan in 2009. The initiative, although generally supported by African institutions, has met its share of obstacles. Some feel that the gTLD will compete with country-level domains which are already sorely in need of local content. Another is that the African Union should focus on more pressing ICT matters (competitive markets, less corruption, Universal Service Funds, etc.).

Great points, indeed. However, there exists a more worrisome question than ‘will .africa empower the continent?’ The real question remains whether .africa can even have the chance to empower.

In an unusual twist, there are still two applicants vying for the .africa gTLD.

ZA Central Registry (ZACR) [UniForum SA (NPC) trading as Registry.Africa] has the support of at least 39 African nations and technically applied for .africa. On the other hand, DotConnectAfrica (DCA Trust) also hopes to establish the .africa domain, but has officially applied for a .dotafrica gTLD. Both entities have respective endorsements and broad media presences. Both have raised the necessary dollars to apply for a gTLD. Both likely have the ability and passion to handle Africa’s gTLD. However, only one can manage ‘Africa’ gTLD.

The predicament:

DotConnectAfrica has been on the forefront of the quest for the ‘Africa’ gTLD, but has recently gotten thrown into a media morass following the June 13th ICANN gTLD Reveal Day. According to ICANN, ZACR applied for .africa and DCA applied for the redundant .dotafrica. ZACR immediately made an announcement that there is only one .africa applicant, to which DCA countered that ICANN considers the .dotafrica string to be the same as the ‘Africa’ geographical string. DCA further claims that ZACR has violated ICANN policy and that the truth will come out eventually when ICANN – not the AU – decides who is to claim the .africa gTLD. ZACR, for their part, claim majority support of the African nations and African Union.

On paper, ZACR has the lead. The group has been endorsed by the African Union (AU) and applied for the actual gTLD in question. DCA, to its credit, claims that ZACR never applied for a community TLD for .africa and potentially views the AU support of ZACR as misled. Of course, neither group has officially secured the ‘Africa’ gTLD – the final say of who controls .africa is up to ICANN (and then the AU) – but the mudslinging is out in full force.

The hope:

Let’s hope the meaning of dotAfrica doesn’t get lost in the back-and-forth. If .africa is to succeed, it will need the full support of whichever party wins its hand. When that day arrives, the winning organization will be wise to put the press game behind and look forward to providing unity to the African online space. Logistical drama, if not stamped out, will only cause the .africa domain to never come to fruition, or to self-destruct if it ever does.

As Gideon Rop, project support engineer of DCA, writes, “it would be interesting to see the African gTLD championed and successfully setup.” Yes, it would.

Koffi Fabrice Djossou, Africa Liaison of Uniform ZACR concludes, “the launch of .africa is an important branding opportunity for Africa and also an exercise in African unity.” Yes, again.

Here’s to a harmonious (and productive) future once the Africa gTLD logistics get ironed out in the coming months.