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The fight over who will manage the .africa top level domain continues as DotConnectAfrica, a Nairobi-based organization has gone to court to undo the decision to give South Africa’s ZA Central Registry (ZACR) control of the domain.

A top level domain is the last part of a web internet address, such as .com and .net. Top level domains are managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for use with the Domain Name System (DNS), where they form the last part of a recognized domain name.

.africa is a geographic top level domain, meaning that its management is not country-specific. It can be used alongside country-specific domains such as .ke for Kenya and .ng for Nigeria. The .africa domain was intended as a distinctive pan-African identification for regional online operations when it is opened up for registration, similar to .eu for Europe and .asia for Asia.

At the moment, however, the .africa domain does not have a registry operator, an organization designated to allocate and manage the domain. This means that the domain cannot be assigned or used for the time being.

The .africa initiative has been a confusing mess, with multiple suits and counter-suits leading to a complicated legal mess.

A decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is responsible for the maintenance of internet domain names, handed the management of the .africa domain to ZACR in 2014.

In 2015, however, DotConnectAfrica applied to take over .africa at the the International Center for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), which is under the American Arbitration Association in New York.

The application sought to nullify ICANN’s board resolution in 2012 that held that the DotConnectAfrica application to host the registry did not have sufficient government support as per the Authority’s applicant guidebook. 

On its part, DCA had signed agreements with Safaricom, Fincom Technologies and the Government of Kenya in 2011 to ensure sufficient hardware and network infrastructure that would support the registry.

In response, DCA filed a case at a US district court in California to try to fight the resolution. DCA won the case on March 4 and was granted a temporary restraining order against ICANN.

As a result, any allocation of .africa has been put on hold until a court hearing set for 4th April is concluded. If the matter is resolved, .africa is likely to go live soon after.

The .africa domain should be a public resource for use by those who wish to establish a continental presence. Having a domain linked to Africa could increase online content generation, and a properly managed registration system would establish regulations on registration, intellectual property, dispute resolution and promotion of ICT in the entire African continent.

While the determination of who will manage the domain between ZACR’s dotAfrica project and  DotConnectAfrica’s Africa Registry Consortium drags on, those looking to establish an internet presence that reflects their continental identity will have to wait that much longer.

In a statement, the African Union noted that the allocation of dotAfrica would allow organisations and individuals interested in acquiring an African online identity to do so, as a .africa domain name would give added visibility and identity to operations in the region.

Hopefully the differences between DCA and ZACR will be sorted out soon so that the .africa domain will take off and Africans can register domain names that are a reflection of their continent.

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