By Yohannes Tadesse CIO East Africa
In my last piece Quid Pro Quo: Secrets of ICANN’s Africa Strategy with AUC, I sought answers to the secret dealers that have characterized the African dream registry for “.africa,” The domain that was ranked possibly among the most promising new gTLDs with an advantage of being established in Africa, a new entrant to the world of top level domains.
In the article, I reported the ICANN Charade in Addis Ababa – The Quid Pro Quo, where the ICANN and AUC had an uncanny partnership idea that would benefit everyone in the ‘interest group behind the woes of .africa’ to hand over “.africa” to ZACR for the benefit of several ICANN board members, the DotAfrica Taskforce and the AUC’s Infrastructure & Energy Commission.
Their benefits would be mostly commercial and by extension, it is in support of the larger mission of ICANN, which has to get continuous support from AUC in assisting it get its Africa votes for its NTIA transition and moving away from US oversight. These were the ideas of the famous ICANN Africa Strategy, which was launched in Addis Ababa under the secret auspices of the AUC. The Strategy was to fast track “.africa” illegitimately to the AUC without competition, irrespective of ICANN following its own process, which I stated as a quid pro quo for the votes of African governments to the US oversight.
I have been provoked to write again in confirmation of the most recent activities around “.africa” that alluded to the fact that there is indeed a concerted effort to rush the delegation of “.africa” with unresolved matters at hand. This was evident when ICANN rushed to sign a contract with AUC/ZACR as they called it back in April 2014, while the organization was still going through an Independent Accountability Review on its decisions with DCA.
In June during the ICANN 50 Conference in London, new details emerged that exposed the pressure of the promise of “fast tracking .africa” to the interest group in the umbrella name of AUC/ZACR. Even before the ICANN meeting, in what seemed like a coordinated effort with ICANN, Dr Elham M. A. Ibrahim, African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy had sent a letter to ICANN CEO Mr Fadi Chehadé expressing frustrations with the delays in approving the “.africa” TLD. These delays have been occasioned by the IRP DotConnectAfrica has filed which led the panel to unanimously rule that there should be no further processing of ZACR “.africa” application.
During the GAC ICANN 50 Conference, a frustrated AUC GAC representative seemingly perturbed by the IRP proceedings almost went on a threat mission clearly attempting to show the government mute-muscle that would be the fate of “.africa” if AUC /ZACR takes the registry operations.
The AUC rep said: “Is the IRP something about reviewing the bylaws of ICANN, or will they be ‐‐ is it something like a big brother watching the board, what they are doing? We so far don’t understand…But let me tell you something about people, frustration. When they don’t understand what is going on, that most of the time leads them to do something or to take positions because, simply, they don’t understand what’s going on….The issue of .AFRICA is making Africans so frustrated that at any point of time any decision for the further that would be taken or anything else could be ‐‐ could not get the African support.”…“And I’m assuring you that many other institutions outside are waiting for this frustration to be used for something else. And we don’t like to have Africa being used by other institutions. We as an institution representing governments most of the time feel very comfortable in something ‐‐ governments want to sit in a place where they have a voice, where they have their flags, where they can vote, where they can veto…”
On “.africa”, the ICANN CEO said: “Similarly, we have the case of “.africa” where a single applicant has filed an IRP. She decided that this is her right and we should let her pursue her right even if the whole African Union has a different view. Her right is to say I don’t agree with the decision.”
These comments did not go down well with Sophia Bekele, founder of DotConnectAfrica, the applicant for “.africa” who fired back a strong response clarifying to the ICANN CEO citing what is in the ICANN guidebook.
Bekele, a former gNSO council member and who was instrumental in the development of policy over the new gTLDs during her term at ICANN in 2005 to 2007, in fact thanked the GNSO for the unanimous call for an independent accountability mechanism “that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community”, saying she recalls how the policy council went through years.
In the clarifications, Bekele said: “Our organization, DCA, is a non-profit corporation and a ‘.africa’ gTLD applicant, yet was referred to during the ICANN 50 as a “SHE”. It was particularly surprising to hear the reference made by the CEO of ICANN Fadi Chehadi during a Press Conference at the just concluded London ICANN International meeting referring to DCA’s application as a “SHE”.
However, Bekele stated the CEO’s comments that DCA has “Rights” to the IRP was a welcome clarification and a wake-up call to any special interest group that may think the “African continent” is only represented by them.
The DCA founder went on: “Despite all these, I thought it would be to the public interest, to list out the multiple errors made by the ICANN CEO in defense of ICANN’s accountability process, using the ‘.africa’ as an example.”
“The CEO of ICANN incorrectly referred to our application as an individual applicant, which is untrue, as ICANN guidebook does not accept “Individual” applicants. One has to be a Corporation to apply. The CEO also incorrectly referred to DCA as a “SHE”, whereas DCA is a Corporation that has no gender identity and also incorrectly stated that DCA is challenging the “entire AUC” in the IRP, whereas the IRP is about ICANN’s actions,”
noted Bekele. DCA further took issue with the fact that the ICANN CEO incorrectly suggested that the organization (DCA) is challenging the “entire AUC” as if the AUC is a legal applicant to the .africa gTLD, which it is not.
From the above, it appears the ICANN continuously makes statements that expose an engrained culture that supports unfortunate courses. It is almost obvious that the ICANN CEO is being advised on how to send the message to the public.
As the frustrations around the reality of having a “.africa” gTLD by these special interest group continues, it seems that the ICANN Africa Strategy, which was a quid pro quo, and promised to deliver its mission anchored on a .africa TLD, seem to have been built on quick sand, as the entire process is now at a standstill by two aspects – US Congress’ decision to halt ICANN’s transition plan and the uncertainly over the Independent Review outcome of DCA vs. ICANN.
What a drama!