New Company Joins Competition to Host Prestigious .africa Domain in East Africa


Competition among firms seeking to brand Africa on the Internet has heightened over the past few months. Africa Top Level Domains Organisation (AfTLD) is the latest entrant into the fray seeking to implement the continent's top level internet domain .africa.

AfTLD, a group of African top level domain operators has placed their bid after and DotConnectAfrica (DCA) which expressed interest in the domain in 2009.

The African domain operators association said in a press release recently that it plans to apply to ICANN, the US-based non-profit organisation which overseas operations of the internet globally, for the .africa top level domain, adding that it plans to seek a mandate from the Africa Union Commission to form a company to manage its bid at a domain operators' meeting in Ghana this month.

"We are not just interested in .africa, but also .afrique, as at least 50 per cent of Africa speaks French. We also intend to have an internationalised version of .africa as we have a huge Arabic-Africa population, but will first start with ".africa," said Vika Mpisane, AfTLD's chair and general manager of South Africa's .za country code top level domain (ccTLD).

AfTLD, formed in December 2002, joins the .africa campaign almost one year after the other two contenders and DCA.

"We launched our 'yes to .africa' campaign last year in Nairobi and announced the 2011 campaign in Tripoli, Libya in January. We will further campaign for .africa and any issues arising," said Sophia Bekele, DCA's executive director, adding that DCA is to meet with internet domain registry operators to discuss various options for the expression of interest and go over options for what is best for Africa.

AfTLD has also announced its intention to have a "leading registry services provider" run its back-end operations, before it has developed capacity to run the registry from Africa.

"AfTLD's proposal is not different from DCA's however much they want to impress. AfTLD's idea and tone show how embarrassing it is that such an organisation would wait till late in the evening to copy and paste everything from framework to text from DCA," writes Rono, a DCA volunteer.

"It's only fair to call this sabotage. Everyone in the fraternity knows who AfTLD's affiliations and advisors are, however much they try to right a tainted past," notes the comment, adding that AfTLD's attempt is a "coup against DCA using Africa Union, who endorsed and mandated DCA for project .africa nine months ago."

Even if it manages to ward off competition from the two contenders -- DCA and -- AfTLD, which has 24 ccTLD registry members, will have to work through challenges relating to stipulations put forward by ICANN on the continental domain.

ICANN's draft applicant guidebook for new top level domain names, like .africa, estimates each stage of a straight forward application to take eight months while a highly complex application could take about 19 months.

The draft applicant guidebook, which prohibits country names, like .Kenya or .Uganda, has very stringent rules for continental domains like .africa for which applicants like DCA, and now AfTLD are required to pay about $186,000 as application fees.

The guidebook states: "In the case of application for a string (domain name) that represents a continent or UN region, documentation of support will be required from at least 60 per cent of the respective national governments in the region, and there may be no more than one written objection to the application from relevant governments and public authorities associated with the continent or the UN region."

Sixty per cent documented support from Africa's 53 countries comes to about 33 countries.

This may be the reason why the applicants are keen to get the endorsement of the AU Commission, which can essentially be translated as a blanket endorsement from all governments in the continent.

"The 60 per cent requirement is not a challenge as DCA has already been endorsed by both the African Union which represents African governments and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa which works with African ministers," stated Bekele, whose endorsement letter, dated August 2009, is signed by Africa Union Commission chair Jean Ping.

There are 21 generic top level domains including .com, .biz, .net, .org while the country code top level domains like .ke for Kenya, .ug for Uganda and .tz for Tanzania are 255.

When it becomes effective, the launch of the ".africa" domain would see the continent join the European Union and Asia which have launched ".eu" and ".asia" respectively.