There is a new attempt to refocus on Africa. A recent announcement titled "A New Approach to Africa" was greeted with excitement but deliberations that transpired in a Global mailing list have projected a whole new dimension and caused a certain amount of dissatisfaction in some quarters.
Africa had a good opportunity in the current ICANN new gTLD programme to submit applications for at least 17 gTLDs. Being the continent with the lowest number of applications, many would be afraid to admit that its indeed a small number of applications; however on the more optimistic side, I think it is worthwhile to admit that it was a good effort given that Africa is starting to claim its position as an important emerging market and take the necessary steps to prevent its marginalization from the global community.
Most interesting however organizations are starting to look to Africa from the outside, particularly in the new gTLD, Africa has one of the most attractive domains under evaluation. The buck does not stop rolling at the application level, but in the attempt to refocus afresh on the African continent as a serious contender.
The New approach to Africa will work only if it is "inclusive", based of course on ICANN's Multistakeholder approach. Africa's involvement at ICANN has so far been typified by the existence of only a few organizations in Africa. The increased participation of the private sector would create more inclusivity.
Internet development and telecommunications successes registered in Africa have largely benefited from private sector partnerships, especially in the adoption of broadband and mobile technologies; this includes expending huge resources to build the required infrastructure. Indeed the African market did not disappoint and is among the leading adopters of online services, social media and most conspicuously the mobile internet adoption. This shows that a synergistic effort between governments and the private sector would go a long way in creating a beneficial growth margin.
ICANN's strategy includes several projects which aim to enable it focus on providing better services in the global public interest. The strategy matrix by the African Strategy Working Group (ASWG) and which has been drafted to align with ICANN's pillars will only succeed if the overall strategy aims at welcoming more stakeholders beyond the current level of participation. It should not remain a closed affair facilitated by a single group of individuals that have long been active at ICANN which so far has attempted to dominate discussions within the African Internet Community to the exclusion of other independent voices and new ideas.
DCA's reaction to the proposed initiative that was conveyed to ICANN in a letter dated August 18, 2012 is indeed justified in calling for an open way of accommodating all views and other ideas in an attempt to achieving better multi-stakeholderism in Africa. The ICANN African Strategy must not be dominated by one voice only. The exclusion of other voices will no doubt create a chasm that will cause disunity amongst Africans at ICANN. Healthy competitions in the marketplace of ideas must be strongly encouraged.
While I welcome the initiative, the key issue now centers on its level of inclusiveness of the entire African Internet populace. In any normal project, a good start for a well strategized initiative is the amount and depth of involvement of all stakeholders despite competition. Doubts or any mistrust between stakeholders would jeopardize the entire project.
Patience in any project that involves a large community without sidelining any participatory attempt buoys the boat from capsizing. From the beginning African Stakeholders can focus on ways to involve all groups without the effort being 'stage-managed and micro-managed' by the usual individuals who have been running the show in the very past. The entire community loses even to the point of being atrophied if there is no replenishment from fresh ideas and new players.
By Yassin Mshana, International Development Consultant Based in Africa
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