ICANN’s Africa DNS report barely mentions the AFRINIC problem

  • ICANN invites comments on the final draft of its 2023 Africa Domain Name Industry Study by February 8, 2024
  • But the report appears to gloss over arguably the most significant event for the DNS ecosystem in the continent

ICANN has invited comments on the final draft of its study into the state of the domain name industry in Africa, which aims to identify the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth in the sector.

The nearly 200-page report, available for your own viewing here and put together by Powersoft Africa as part of an initiative under the Coalition for Digital Africa, goes into great detail regarding the current state of the African DNS landscape, its key features, its growth successes and limitations, and argues that a trial DNS Observatory would be a significant tool in tracking growth trends in domains, websites and DNSSEC.

However, perhaps the most destabilising event of the past year in the market was the removal of the board of the African Regional Internet Registry, AFRINIC, and it is given barely a passing mention. Relegated to a single paragraph – 83 words – halfway through the report, it would seem this is a gross oversight if indeed the report is meant to identify potential weaknesses and opportunities for improvement in the market.

ICANN Africa DNS Report comment on AFRINIC

“Unfortunately, AFRINIC’s institutional management is going through difficulties at present, where it is without a CEO or a quorum on its Board. In September 2023 a court formally appointed the Official Receiver of Mauritius to maintain the status quo of AFRINIC, which is under receivership at present, with the mandate to hold elections within six months. ICANN is continuing to closely monitor the situation and aims to provide whatever support the Official Receiver requests to restore AFRINIC’s functional governance, long-term stability, and operations,” the report says.

And with that, the report moves onto other topics.

Also read: AFRINIC elections to be held within 6 months

ICANN is fully aware of the importance of AFRNIC for the stability of the registration database for the region. In its short review of 2023, the AFRNIC situation was named as one of its 13 key goals, where it stated: “ICANN remains committed to the long-term viability of the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) system, including providing the Official Receiver previously appointed by the courts in Mauritius with a neutral and expert observer. John Crain, ICANN Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, was on the ground in Mauritius in September to support this work. Though further court filings have removed the Official Receiver from service for now, ICANN org maintains its readiness to offer expertise in support of the RIR system. We also are in close communication with the leadership of the other RIRs, which has greatly improved our coordination in monitoring the African Network Information Centre situation.”

John Crain was not overly concerned about the minimal form of the AFRINIC mention. “AFRINIC is a ‘numbers’ registry rather than a ‘names’ registry,” he told BTW. “With the report being focused on African Domain Name industry then it would make sense that AFRINIC is not a focus.”

And at its own recent conference held in Hamburg, every time Africa was mentioned an ICANN representative took time to praise the work being done by the RIR employees, despite being without a CEO or board.

AFRINIC challenge cannot be underestimated

And there can be no doubt the task at hand is a challenging one, made all the more difficult due to the lack of transparency with which things are accomplished in Africa.

But if you consider the scale of the African continent, the number of people these issues affect, the importance of ensuring this up-and-coming continent has the tools and the infrastructure to compete with the world by enabling its best and smartest to build and thrive, surely this issue must be more important than a single paragraph?

Also read: Randy Bush honoured at RIPE 87 after calling RIRs a ‘monopoly’

What is happening with AFRNIC, the African Regional Internet Registry?

AFRINIC has been operating without a CEO or functional board after the Supreme Court of Mauritius passed a judgment in June 2022 to disband the then incumbent CEO, Eddy Kayihura. An Official Receiver was appointed in September 2023 to oversee, among other things, elections for the AFRINIC Executive Council, hopefully providing some much-needed stability.

However, further court filings have meant the Official Receiver has been unable to perform his tasks, and the situation has been stuck in a form of legalistic limbo.

BTW has spoken to many African network operators and businesses over the past several months, who claim that their work on the ground has not been overly affected by the situation. But frustrations are emerging. At the ICANN meeting in Hamburg, during the Africa session, one attendee from Nigeria expressed his frustration that a country as big as Nigeria was being thwarted by the legal shenanigans of the comparatively microscopic nation of Mauritius, thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean. He even suggested that Nigeria be allowed to disentangle itself from AFRINIC and set up its own registry.

In the meantime, we hope the community takes the opportunity to make their thoughts known, which you can do here until February 8, 2024: https://www.icann.org/en/public-comment/proceeding/draft-final-report-of-the-2023-africa-domain-name-industry-study-21-12-2023


James Durston

James Durston is the Editor-in-Chief for Blue Tech Wave, and a former editor and journalist for some of the world's biggest international media organisations.

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