The ICANN-45 International meeting of the ICANN Global Community in Toronto, Canada provided an opportunity for the unveiling of the initial draft of the ICANN Africa Strategy, an episode that will always be remembered as a landmark moment which signaled the official commencement of ICANN's new approach to Africa. Indeed, a new chapter has started regarding how ICANN will relate henceforth to Africa.
The ICANN Africa Strategy will increase Africa's visibility in ICANN, and in turn, also project ICANN's visibility in Africa. Its implementation should lead to the mainstreaming of the principal issues of concern to Africa in ICANN's discourse.
It is therefore important that the ICANN Africa Strategy is not misrepresented in terms of its overall goals, and the type of strategic impact it is supposed to engender in the short to medium term.
However, just a few days after ICANN's meeting in Toronto, the Africa Strategy is now being spun by some pundits and self-styled Africa watchers into what it is not, thereby creating some general misconceptions. I believe that such mischaracterizations of the ICANN Africa Strategy could create widespread confusion and actually precipitate its failure. Such a ridiculous fiasco resulting as an unintended consequence must be avoided at all cost. It is therefore necessary at this early stage to set the records straight about what the ICANN Africa Strategy is not.
1. The "ICANN Africa Strategy" is different from the "African Agenda"
The Africa Agenda is a failed tactic that was employed by a group of so-called 'African Internet Experts' to impose their agenda on ICANN using the political and diplomatic machinery of the African Union Commission, whilst exploiting the auspices of the African Ministerial Round-Table that met in Dakar, Senegal in October 2011 during ICANN-42. It was essentially the work of chicanery that failed. Twelve (12-points) were outlined as an 'African Agenda' that had presumably received the blessings of an African Ministerial Round-Table and submitted to ICANN leaders in Dakar; with the hope that ICANN would approve the imperious demands that were contained in the 'African Agenda' as a fait accompli. One of the most impossible demands contained in the African Agenda was for ICANN to give special treatment to the African Union, and reserve the .Africa (DotAfrica) name and its representations in any other language in the List of Top-Level Domain names; with the added proviso that the African Union would then delegate the .Africa gTLD to a structure that it hoped to identify and select. It was a very ridiculous demand, against the backdrop that the Top-Level Names in the Reserved List (for example, AfriNIC, www, http, etc.) were already specified in the approved version of the new gTLD Applicant's Guidebook, and any extra-ordinary proposition to include .Africa in the List, would have required an amendment to the new gTLD Applicant's Guidebook.
The inchoate plan was therefore defeated in Dakar, and with it, the African Agenda. In ICANN's official response to the AUC and the African Ministerial Round-Table that came in March 2012, it was recommended to the AUC to use both GAC Early Warning Advice and Community Objection to influence the outcome of the .Africa new gTLD application process.
ICANN's response therefore made it clear that the only route to the delegation of .Africa gTLD was through the new gTLD program and not through the imperious imposition of an African Agenda. It must be emphasized that the Africa Agenda was not consensus-driven, lacked multi-stakeholder input and was never approved by ICANN. The Africa Agenda actually failed at Dakar.
2. The "ICANN African Strategy" is not related to the new gTLD Program
The ICANN African Strategy has nothing to do with the .Africa new gTLD. The objectives of the ICANN new gTLD program are quite clear as a global, fairly structured, rule-based, policy-driven, transparent and competitive process under which new gTLDs will emerge, with a view to expanding the Internet. The Africa Strategy on the other hand is simply a strategic planning process with multi-stakeholder inputs that is expected to guide ICANN's engagement with Africa during the implementation period of the ICANN Strategic Plan from July 2013 to June 2016. Therefore, any viewpoint that contrives to indicate that the ICANN African Strategy is somehow connected to .Africa gTLD or to ICANN's new gTLD program is completely fallacious, and should be debunked as incorrect and misleading.
As a matter of fact, during the comments collection process, the draft Assessment report assembled by the ASWG had contained a reference to .Africa new gTLD, based on some submission that was made by a respondent, but this was seen as irrelevant, out-of-context and removed.
3. An AUC-endorsed DotAfrica Application has nothing to with the Africa Strategy
A recent blog posting written by Andrew Mack, a self-styled Africa watcher, had tried to suggest that the DotAfrica application somehow has something to do with the ICANN Africa Strategy. In his article he stated inter alia: "You could also see it in the tremendous enthusiasm for the AUC-endorsed dotAfrica (.africa) application, which has become a real a (sic) focal point of an emerging "African Agenda". Again, this is a very wrong assertion which is very misleading. Andrew Mack's confusion is rather palpable, by mixing-up the new ICANN Africa Strategy with the previously failed African Agenda.
The point has already been made that the "African Agenda" aimed to take the DotAfrica new gTLD outside the oversight of ICANN's new gTLD program under an opaque plan that would have enabled the African Union Commission (with the 'guidance' of its Task Force on DotAfrica) to separately delegate the .Africa gTLD to a structure that it had identified and selected based on a flawed 'special treatment process'. Andrew Mack's recent posting was therefore in grave error by assuming that the AUC-endorsed dotAfrica (.africa) application has become the focal point of an emerging "Africa Agenda". The African Agenda was generally seen as an illegitimate, stage-managed scheme which never received any approval from ICANN. The AUC had wanted to enjoy certain special legislative protections under the African agenda, but this was denied by ICANN.
Finally, it is important to clarify that the AUC is not part of the ICANN Africa Strategy. In truth, the AUC had tried to endorse a DotAfrica (.Africa) Community TLD application for the African Community, but the appointed applicant — UniForum did not submit any application on behalf of the African Community, and did not even acknowledge any 'African Community' in its application for .Africa.
Therefore the notion of an AUC-endorsed DotAfrica application remains nebulous and ill-defined. Following the revelation that the .Africa application by UniForum did not truthfully adhere to the terms of the purported AUC-endorsement that it had received; to wit, that of applying on behalf of the African Community, Mr. Neil Duncan Dundas had made an open admission on the AfrICANN Forum that he expects the AU, the African Internet Community and ICANN to hold UniForum accountable for its misleading application.
Therefore, until full accountability at the time of final reckoning, it is a rather fantastic notion for Andrew Mack or anybody for that matter to even remotely suggest that an AUC-endorsed dotAfrica (.africa) application, is becoming the focal point of an emerging "African Agenda".
By Sophia Bekele, CEO of DotConnectAfrica. Ms. Sophia Bekele is a former generic Names Supporting Organization (gNSO) Council policy advisor to ICANN from 2005 to 2007 and is presently the spearhead of the Yes2DotAfrica campaign. During her stint with the ICANN GNSO Council, she contributed to the new gTLD policy development effort.
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