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Africa Union joins .africa debate

o Rebecca Wanjiku
16.12.2010 kl 14:48 | Computerworld Kenya

The African Union (AU) has expressed interest in playing a key role in selecting the operator for the .africa and .afrique generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).


The African Union (AU) has expressed interest in playing a key role in selecting the operator for the .africa and .afrique generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

The .africa domain is expected to target companies with continental operations, just like .eu and .asia. The AU is hoping to represent governments' interest in the selection process, the way the European Union was involved in .eu.

Two weeks ago, Ghana's ICT minister sent a letter to ICANN indicating that .afrique and .africa discussions should involve the AU to avoid potential hijack for "private use."

Various entities have expressed interest in managing new gTLDs but critics question whether they are motivated by profit or by a genuine desire to increase domain-name uptake in the region.

"On one side is the self-serving commercial interest that some entities are already championing; these are entities that are in it purely for the money; on the other side is a community-serving commercial interest that most of the African internet community prefers," said Vika Mpisane, president of the Africa TLD organization (AfTLD).

"For the community model, the overall aim is to use the profits made from .africa domain name fees not to enrich an individual, but to grow and sustain the African internet community through various projects such as research and training," he added.

The debate about which entity should run .africa has been hinged on hopes that it will be a source of profit, like the business done by registries in developed countries. But the slow pace of Internet growth in Africa is likely to dent those hopes.

"Although there is such heated debate on .africa, I am not certain everyone understands the stakes so far," said Pierre Dandjinou, Executive Director, Strategic Consulting Group. "It is not primarily about big business, at least for the first years of operation, but about a projection of an African image and branding."

The .africa domain could help current country code TLDs, which have suffered from slow uptake, according to some industry insiders.

"Most African TLDs lack an aggressive communication and marketing strategy," added Dandjinou, who is also a past chair of AfriNIC.

"A .africa registry could open up possibilities for capacity development for ccTLDs managers who could also be retailers for .africa."

The new .africa domain may fare better than the ccTLDs simply because of the name, adds the AfTLD's Mpisane.

"There is a feeling amongst the African internet community that while a substantial lot of ccTLDs struggle with increasing registration uptake, the .africa domain will be more exciting for African brands and people as the name 'Africa' is naturally more recognizable than names of individual African country names," said Mpisane, who is also the general manager of .the za Domain Name Authority in South Africa.

While the debate on commercial and community interests has dominated the discussions, Mpisane and Dandjinou feel that the US$185,000 application fee required is likely to lock out interested applicants from the region. There are discussions within ICANN to reduce the fee.

Keywords: Internet  Government  
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