Q113 set for dotAfrica decision

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Image: By BiztechAfrica
Q113 set for dotAfrica decision

By Neil Dundas, UniForum SA

Africa is finally due to receive its own pan-African domain name.The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will, as early as the first quarter of 2013,announce which organisation will administer the continent’s dotAfricatop level domain (TLD). Naturally, this has led to some jostling amongst a number of entities across the continent, all of which have been seeking the administration rights for the dotAfrica TLD.

The dotAfrica domain will be a pan-African identification for regional online operations when it is opened up for registration in 2013. DotAfrica will be one of the new generic top-level domains that should be approved by ICANN in 2013 and should, rightfully, be administered by an African organisation, although anyone has a right to apply to become the domain administrator.

With this in mind, the African Union Commission (AUC) published a request for proposals from operators in Africa, seeking an organisation that would be able to provide Africa with an African solution. It has also been made clear that the administrating organisation needs to be a non-profit operator that will administer the TLDin an open and transparent manner.

The African Union (AU) as a whole is well aware not only of the importance of the dotAfrica domain but,in particular, the need to find the right organisation to conduct the administration thereof. Transparency, reliability, technical ability, financial stability and continental representation were all key considerations when making the decision of which company it would endorse.

With the above factors taken into consideration, there is little surprise at the nomination of UniForum SA, trading as the ZA Central Registry, since this is an organisation that embodies all of the above qualities. With the AU firmly behind the ZA Central Registry, the two entities, in consultation with the African domain name community, will work in partnership with each other to submit the required application to ICANN before the April 2012 deadline.

Ultimately, the administration of a continental (geographic) domain name is a very technical issue. For this reason, the AU demanded that the organisation it endorsesmust be able to demonstrate a strong technical ability. It also needs a substantive, demonstrable track record regarding the successful administration of a domain name space. With over17 years experience in this regard, the ZA Central Registry is one of the few players in Africa that can demonstrate the kind of track record required by the AU.

Of course, technical ability was not the only prerequisite for endorsement. Also critical is the need for a domain administrator that will ensure that the domain benefits stakeholders, rather than shareholders. As a non-profit organisation, the ZA Central Registry is already stakeholder-focused but, thanks to the establishment of a multi-entity Steering Committee (Steercom), it will also ensure that funds generated by the administration of the domain are channelled to the agreed developmental initiatives focused on the African domain name and Internet space.

The Steercom has been created as a platform to exercise moral and ethical leadership over the dotAfrica project. It is representative of the broader African region and comprises elected representatives from various domain name and Internet related constituencies from within the continent, including country code top level domains (ccTLDs), registrars, the private and public sectors and the technical community. Members of the Steercom are based in various African countries, including the likes of Sudan, Burundi, Cote D’Ivoire, Morocco, Senegal, Kenya, Tunisia, Mali and South Africa. This wide representation will help ensure transparency and proper oversight at all times.

Furthermore, all surplus funds that are generated by the administration of the dotAfrica domain will go to a foundation (the “dotAfrica Foundation”)that will beestablished under the guidance of the Steercom. This money will then be utilised for development purposes across the continent.

Four main areas of development have been highlighted by the SteerCom. These include: the development of African ccTLDs; the expansion of the registrar market in Africa; bolstering local and regionalcontent development; and a strong focus on ICT socio-economic development. This could mean the implementation of projects such as the installation of computer labs in schools and communities, the development of Internet-related entrepreneurs and businesses, establishing world class-standards and infrastructure amongst African ccTLDs, and the development and growth of African thought leadership in the global domain name space.

The AU has made it obvious that the continent requires an African player that can ensure the dotAfrica domain is effectively administered. To be successful in its application to ICANN, the administrator will require a team approach that will combine a range of complementary skills, including technical, legal, financial and administrative resources. Moreover, it will need a clearly defined collective strategy on the way forward and how the project will benefit Africa.

Finally, it will need substantial capacity and resources, as well as financial stability if it is to succeed in its goal of driving African innovation and helping Africans to rely on their own resources, rather than always looking to other parts of the world for answers and assistance. There are very few such entities in Africa that meet these exacting criteria: clearly the AU considers the ZA Central Registry the organisation best positioned to deliver on this mandate.

The URLs for the social media platforms are as follows: http://www.facebook.com/africandomain and https://twitter.com/africandomain

For more information, check out http://dotafrica.blogspot.com/p/welcome.html



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