There was one obvious take-away from this week's ICANN meetings in Toronto, and for once it was less about policy and more about geography. Simply put, Africa is really — finally — coming together at ICANN, with a new energy, new unity and lots of new participation from African participants. And from top to bottom, the ICANN community seems to be taking notice.
The evidence was everywhere… You could see it in the large number of African participants from all over the continent, and in active African engagement in the GAC. You could see it in the statements from the ICANN CEO, Board Chair and constituency leaders who came to the release of the new Africa strategy and praised both the strategy and the strategy process — inclusive, fast-moving and importantly, driven by African stakeholders at ICANN, not imposed from above. You could also see it in the tremendous enthusiasm for the AUC-endorsed dotAfrica (.africa) application, which has become a real a focal point of an emerging "African Agenda".
Of course, the hard work is yet to be done.
All sides need to follow through to turn the strategy into real impact, to make sure that ongoing outreach becomes a reality, not just happy talk. We need to make sure the .Africa application — which has support from more than 40 countries (and counting) isn't slowed down by the new batching process or any other noise. Nobody in the end was in favor of digital archery, but the system did have one thing right — a preference for geographic, community and IDN names. Prioritizing Latin American and African applications makes sense given the history of "outreach", the small number of applications from these regions and the reality of the internet's growth. We believe a new "draw" system without a focus on underserved regions would send the wrong signal to the international internet community. It wouldn't do justice to the good work already initiated with support from the CEO, and in the end, it would be bad for ICANN.
As a long time Africa watcher at ICANN, I saw much to celebrate in Toronto. And I'd like to especially compliment new CEO Fadi Chehadé for creating the space for (and what seems like genuine interest in) the needs of the continent that has been underserved for so long. But while words are important, we're just getting started. Africa is showing that it is serious about playing a real, sustained role at ICANN. Hopefully, ICANN is serious as well.
By Andrew Mack, Principal at AMGlobal Consulting