When I saw this story headline on DomainNewsAfrica this morning, I was curious to check it out.
I recall the spat between DotConnectAfrica(DCA) and DomainIncite Kevin Murphy’s coverage of the story -DotConnectAfrica disconnected from reality dated July 26, 2012 – “If anyone is going to get the .africa registry contract, it’s the other applicant: Uniforum, the South African ccTLD registry.” noting a premature announcement of the winner of .africa which had all eyes open to his blog. While Murphy’s claim superficially appears to be coming from the AU endorsement that Uniforum shared with him, “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”.
DCA known for its rebuttal on issues of .africa replied saying, despite the country statistics that Murphy used to make his premature reports, the application filed by Uniforum will be problematic, saying that the endorsement Uniforum received from the AU was to apply “exclusively and unambiguously on behalf of the African community” which Uniforum did not. “This might be considered as fraudulent“, said DCA also asserting that “endorsement will not be the only factor in determining the winner of .africa”.
Therefore, circumstances may really not have turned favorable to Murphy’s predictions, as there were so many issues identified in Uniform’s application (going by the official public comments published by DCA on September 27, 2012 on Uniforum, which include the issue of not applying for an African Community TLD), which surprisingly Murphy has dismissed on his blog at the time. But the current revelation by DCA on the COI issues on .africa with the ICANN Board members takes the whole winning case of Murphy confidence to another level.
I began following the ICANN gTLD program for almost two years ago due to the sensitization of .africa TLD for Africa via the DotConnectAfrica Yes2dotAfrica campaign. I was hoping to see many African TLDs so I could also write and do editorials about them, but found most the applied for gTLDs by Africans were Brand domains, .dstv, .multichoice, .mnet, .africamagic, .kyknet, .supersport, .mzansimagic and .gotv. Pretty much belonging to Multichoice others include .naspers and .mtn all affiliated companies.
Among others were geographic domains .jorbug .capetown .durban and the hottest .africa . So I now got stuck following the highly contested .africa TLD of the two companies that have applied for it, DotConnectAfrica – the early campaigner of .africa and Uniforum which came around early this year based on its endorsement, after taking over the role of ARC, the organization that DCA campaigned against as BEE scammers and business opportunists. I have also read extensively and formed my own opinions on the respective endorsements received by both parties from the same institution, and strangely for the same project.
Notwithstanding from the media reports I followed, Uniforum has been telling us about their alleged endorsements from 40 countries aside from their main supporter AU, which according to ICANN’s guidebook remains a stipulation for geographic gTLD’s. Interestingly there hasn’t been a disclosure by ICANN on the public proposals and I have tried to find out without much success, if these 40 endorsements are ccTLDs or from individual government support, because the team at Uniforum is composed of largely industry people from the ccTLD cadre. Also, it is now in public domain that AFTLD has lent its support for the AU.
Few of the Ministries I have asked do not even know Uniforum or even heard of .africa. A strong indication that not many African institutions sincerely understand or can give any substantive opinion about the new gTLD. Therefore I would finally expect then that ICANN will come to its senses in line with its transparency commitments, to disclose these endorsements for both parties to the public interest, if not one will be asking why?
Nonetheless, I have also downloaded and read both applications (DotConnectAfrica and Uniforum) and have seen the public comments on both. While I am going to save my comments on the proposals submitted for a later day (I have already expressed my views on the domain pricing few days ago), I could not help but try to comprehend the outrage expressed by DotConnectAfrica in its letter to ICANN noting the conflict of interest on the two ICANN Board Members who volunteered to serve on the New gTLD Program committee set up by ICANN in April 2012, despite their known conflict of interest in the .africa gtld. Namely Mike Silber and Chris Disspain from South Africa and Australia respectively, having a potential interest on the outcome of the .africa gTLD.
Therefore, this new development of Conflict of Interest with .africa can easily be reconciled with the projection made by Murphy on who will be winning .africa as the two named ICANN directors have willfully volunteered their services on the New gTLD program committee, which determines the fate of new gTLDs including .africa. The New gTLD program committee resolution can be found here.
From this analogy therefore I assume that the .africa issue might be a time bomb, and much as not many ICT professionals within the African context really understand about the .africa or ICANN, it remains that Africa will only wake to the heat generated from the friction that will arise from how the Issues of Conflict of interest, opaqueness and generally how the multistakeholder model will be managed.
ICANN has a role to play in asserting itself above the rest and being the referee. The rest of the players in the .africa race should probably just resign and remain as players and not at the technical bench.
So shall the winner be determined by the presence of the friends in high places exerting influence or shall it be a fair competition, each presenting its best foot forward. Certainly time is the best judge, meanwhile its up to the organizations in the issue to come out with clarity.