The ministers in charge of Communication and Information Technologies of the African Union countries met in Johannesburg, South Africa, in November 2009. The meeting resulted in the ‘Oliver Tambo Declaration’ in which the need to: ‘Establish dot Africa as a continental Top Level Domain for use by organizations, businesses and individuals with guidance from African Internet Agencies’ was stated as one of the conclusions reached by the ministers.
In January 2010, in what was called the ‘Abuja Declaration’ the ministers requested that the African Union Commission (AUC) ‘set up the structure and modalities for the implementation of the DotAfrica project.’ A task force was subsequently set up by the AUC to implement the decisions reached by the Ministers in Abuja. The task force recommended that the AUC apply to ICANN for the operation of the dotAfrica gTLD during ICANN’s new gTLD Program.
The recommendation included the initiation of a tender process for the selection of a body or organisation to launch and operate the dotAfrica gTLD on behalf of the African Union member states. On 12 May 2011, the African Union advised parties interested in managing the dotAfrica gTLD to reply to the AUC ‘Call for Expression of Interest’. Following the Expression of Interest process, the AUC invited interested parties to submit detailed proposals (Request for Proposals) for the registration and operation of the dotAfrica gTLD. The Commissioner of Infrastructure and Energy of the African Union, on behalf of the African Union, officially informed the ZA Central Registry (ZACR), of its appointment as the ‘Official Applicant and Registry Operator for dotAfrica gTLD’, in a letter dated 4 April 2012. The ZACR submitted the official new gTLD application for the dotAfrica geographic gTLD to ICANN, with application reference number 1-1234-89583, on 13 June 2012. The ZACR’s application passed the initial evaluation for the dotAfrica gTLD, on 12 July 2013, the result of which was published with ICANN’s Initial Evaluation Report. ICANN and the ZACR signed the official dotAfrica gTLD ‘Registry Agreement’ in Singapore, on 24 March 2014.
Another organisation, DotConnectAfrica Trust, however also submitted a competing ‘private’ application for the dotAfrica gTLD. DotConnectAfrica Trust had been an active and vocal participant in efforts regarding the dotAfrica gTLD from as early as 2005. Following the AUC’s ‘Call for Expression of Interest’ DotConnectAfrica Trust averred that the AUC’s ‘Expression of Interest’ is ‘an extraordinary process introduced AFTER THE FACT’, and insisted that it had a ‘previous endorsement from the AUC’. DotConnectAfrica Trust consequently did not submit a proposal for ‘The Operation of Dot Africa’ after the AUC’s ‘Request for Proposal’.
The AUC officially submitted a GAC Early Warning against the application submitted by DotConnectAfrica Trust through the GAC Early Warning System, together with fifteen individual African governments to ICANN against the DotConnectAfrica Trust application. Following the GAC’s Early Warning the GAC released its Beijing Communique, on 11 April 2013, in which it released a GAC Advice in the form of an official ‘Objection’ to DotConnectAfrica Trust’s application for the dotAfrica gTLD. The ICANN New gTLD Committee (NGPC) issued a response to the GAC Beijing Communique on 4 June 2013. In its response the NGPC stated that it accepted the Beijing GAC Advice that the application of DotConnectAfrica Trust for the dotAfrica gTLD should not proceed. The NGPC directed ICANN’s staff, pursuant to the ‘Beijing Advice’, that the DotConnectAfrica Trust application should not be approved.
A very disgruntled DotConnectAfrica Trust proceeded to employ all possible review mechanisms stipulated in the Applicant Guidebook in terms of which an action of the ICANN Board or staff can be challenged. This included approaching the ICANN Ombudsman and a Reconsideration Request of the decision of the NGPC decision. The very last mechanism available to DotConnectAfrica Trust was the Independent Review Process. In terms of this process an independent panel can consider whether the ICANN Board acted inconsistently with ICANN’s Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws. ICANN and DotConnectAfrica Trust have consequently been locked in an Independent Review Process (IRP) since August 2013. The Independent Panel has issued various interim orders since the initiation of the process that includes an order that ICANN should not proceed with the delegation of the dotAfrica gTLD until the process has been concluded. A hearing was set down for December 2014 but was postponed after one of the panellists resigned for personal reasons. A new date for the hearing still needs to be finalised and then the panel still needs to render its decision. In the mean time the whole of Africa holds its breath in anticipation of the outcome of the IRP process that will hopefully see the delegation of the eagerly awaited dotAfrica gTLD.