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Africa set for new continental domain name extension

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Under the leadership of the African Union Commission, UniForum SA, trading as the ZA Central Registry (ZACR), has applied for a new Internet extension, .Africa (or dotAfrica).

ZA Central Registry (ZACR) has applied for a new Internet extension, .Africa (or dotAfrica) (image: stock.xchng)

In the future, it is hoped that domain names using dotAfrica will go a long way towards promoting the businesses, people and cultures of Africa on the Internet.

The interview below with Koffi Fabrice Djossou, a ZACR representative, took place at the recent 43rd Internet Corporate for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Summit in San José, Costa Rica.

How did the project to implement the dotAfrica extension originate?

In 2002, African experts who participated actively in ICANN developed a plan for the creation of a dotAfrica domain that would be run by Africans for Africa. Bringing the project to fruition had three important steps.

The first took place in 2009 in Johannesburg during the special session of the Conference of Ministers of the African Union in charge of Communications and Information Technology (CITMC). It recognized the benefits of dotAfrica. The conference adopted a resolution (in the Oliver Tambo Declaration) which establishes the extension as a continental top level domain (TLD) for use by organizations, companies and individuals with the support of African Internet institutions.

Following the adoption of the Oliver Tambo Declaration at the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African Union in January 2010, the third ordinary session of the Conference of Ministers of the African Union in charge of Communications and Information Technology, held in Abuja (Nigeria) in August 2010, asked the Commission of the African Union to establish the structure and operations for implementing the DotAfrica project.

Finally, during the 42nd ICANN summit in Dakar (Senegal), a round table of African Ministers responsible for ICT recommended that dotAfrica be treated as a geographic TLD.

In November 2011 the Commission of the African Union launched a tender for the administration of the new dotAfrica domain. It has just been won by UniForum / ZACR, the South African registrar.

Following the Abuja Declaration, the Commission of the African Union established a working group of eminent African experts to launch a tender. In a transparent process, Uniforum / ZACR was selected from among all the international registrars who tendered to be the official operator of the dotAfrica registry.

UniForum / ZACR, a nonprofit organization, runs the South African domain register, which contains 700,000 domains—the most in Africa.

UniForum ZACR will now file the application for the new extension on behalf of the African Union in the current round of ICANN extensions, which closes on 12 April 2012. We should also remember that dotAfrica is a geographical extension, and therefore belongs to the African community. ICANN requires letters of support from at least 60% of the entities that identify with the extension. To be sure that dotAfrica receives approval from ICANN, the African Union has asked its 53 African countries to write a letter to ICANN and the Governmental Advisory Committee expressing support for the Abuja Declaration and the bidding process.

DotAfrica will be governed by steering committee (dotAfrica Steering Committee) composed of African Internet experts, administrators of country code TLDs, and accredited African registrars.

Who can register dotAfrica domain names?

The dotAfrica domain is open to all. There will be an initial “sunrise” period during which only governments, brand owners and those with other proprietary rights will be prioritized. The launch will be governed by specific well-defined rules.

How many domain names do you hope to register in dotAfrica?

DotAfrica will enable Africa to open up to the rest of the world and expand its commercial influence. If it is presented positively, dotAfrica has the potential to become an enormous domain name. Many companies want an African presence because the continent still has so much potential.

Africa has a billion people. It also has 54 country extensions (ccTLDs) that will become “registrars” of dotAfrica. We believe that dotAfrica will have more impact than dotAsia, which has 200,000 domain names. In Asia, the country extensions are very strong, which is not yet the case in Africa. The African community is diverse with Anglophones, Francophones, Hispanics—Africans all claiming a certain identity. DotAfrica will allow African content, tourism or culture to be presented in much more unified way to outsiders.

Are you relying on dotAFrica to develop the African domain name market?

Africa, despite its economic potential, has a negligible presence in the lucrative domain name market. This is something that dotAfrica could help develop but without excluding international registrars, who will also have their role to play.

DotAfrica must contribute to the establishment of a real domain name industry in Africa and help develop a market for registrars or resellers of domain names. The statistics speak for themselves: of the thousands of “registrars” accredited by ICANN, only five are African, and only two are operational. Africa is lagging behind and must fill the void by giving companies a Web presence that will act as an economic catalyst.

It’s all about the promotion of ICT, of a global Internet that provides a platform for the growth of entrepreneurship in Africa, for education and mass media, for developing local content, and a vehicle for improving living standards. This Internet driven by innovation (the only way for Africa to be free of globalization is via innovation) will enable Africa to break out of isolation into the Information Society by promoting the African private sector, the creator of value and wealth.

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Staff writer


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