Say “NO” to the African Union RFP for the Operation of DotAfrica (30/IED/11)
November 23, 2011
African Union Briefing Note on DotAfrica
The earlier ‘Briefing Note on DotAfrica’ that was issued by the African Union Infrastructure & Energy Department dated, May 2011, was very unequivocal in its assertion that the AU will apply to ICANN to own DotAfrica during the next round of the new gTLDs, which ICANN will launch (See “Briefing Note on DotAfrica by Dept. of Infrastructure and Energy – Information Society Division”.
The authors of that document had then advocated for support to be garnered from different African countries to sustain the AU process for “securing the namespace so as to enable the AU apply for DotAfrica without being challenged by an individual or institution that would like to stake a claim to the namespace”
The ‘Agenda’ of the African Ministerial Round-Table
Until the African Ministerial Round-Table meeting that took place in Dakar, Senegal from 19th to 21st October 2011, it was clear that such support from different countries was not only lacking, but also becoming very difficult to obtain since there has been no proper country-level consultations regarding AU’s involvement in DotAfrica. The African countries are already self-sufficient with their existing allocations of two-code country (cc) Top Level Domains (TLDs), and have no special interest whatsoever in a geographic, generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) that DotAfrica represents.
“Outsourcing” DotAfrica through an AU-sponsored RFP
Following the issuance of this RFP, it is now clear that there is an official deviation from the earlier position contained in the ‘Briefing Note on DotAfrica’, since the AU no longer intends to apply directly for DotAfrica, but has simply decided to now institute an RFP process to enable it choose a partner that will apply for DotAfrica. Even within the current multi-stakeholder model, the AU as a stakeholder is simply supposed to endorse, but not to decide on who should operate DotAfrica based on an outsourcing model. In a nutshell, the RFP will lead to the selection of a Consortium that the AU will outsource DotAfrica to, whilst retaining policy oversight.
AU will no longer Apply to ICANN for DotAfrica gTLD.
According to a clarification that was made on the KictANET Discussion Forum on 14 November 2011 by Monsieur Pierre Dandjinou, Chair of the AU DotAfrica Taskforce :”AUC states it does not intend to be an Applicant, thus, it chose to contract an Africa based consortium to endorse (with legitimate letters) for the business and technical operation as required by the guide book. As far as I know, and with regards to geographic tld such as DotAfrica, AUC will still retain a policy oversight (just like the .eu) within its contract with operator on the one hand, and could work through the Governments’ notification and the GAC’s early warning procedures on the other hand.”
The pertinent question therefore is: When did the AU decide not to apply for DotAfrica; and what were the reasons which led to the determination that the AU should not be a direct applicant but rather, would contract a Consortium to endorse for the business and technical operation of DotAfrica?
Again, in trying to answer these questions, we arrive at the disheartening conclusion that the AU has simply been used by a special interest group (the ‘DotAfrica Cabal) to perform a surreptitious hijack of the DotAfrica gTLD in open view of the entire world.
1 – Evidence of Manipulation by the AU DotAfrica Task Force to fulfill the exact wishes of the community they have defined:
Against the backdrop that the AU never intended to apply directly for DotAfrica in the first place, which was the basis of endorsement given to DCA, and the current change in direction from one of soliciting for support from various countries to enable the AU apply for DotAfrica, to that of the AU no longer wanting to be an applicant, it is clear that there is an unseen hand that is presently manipulating the DotAfrica gTLD project at the AU with the goal of achieving a certain pre-determined outcome.
In a recent ComputerWorld Kenya article, the following statement was attributed to Mr. Vika Mpisane of the AfTLD: “the AU is only interested in making sure that .africa benefits Africa’s Internet Community.” (See Computer World article http://news.idg.no/cw/art.cfm?id=C950F80D-01AB-74C0-D54CC6087A9E451B
Similarly, Mr. Badru Ntege, CEO of NFT Consult who is a strong proponent of a community-owned and operated DotAfrica, had mentioned to the AfriCANN emailing list on 22nd November 2011 that: “I think the community has an opportunity to influence the direction and also get the solution it deserves” whilst also insisting that “the AU decision should be informed by the community and so the community needs to take an active role in the dialogue. ”
1a) AU Taskforce advising the AU in fulfillment of the particular wishes of their “community”
And so we have, an amorphous African Internet Community whose leaders have not only floated separate DotAfrica proposals in the past which failed to gain traction and momentum, but have now constituted the membership of the AU Task Force on DotAfrica, thereby providing advice to the continental organization that has resulted in the exact fulfillment of the particular wishes of this community. What are we to make of all these?
Even during the Experts Meeting of the African Ministerial Round-Table in Dakar, the ARC representative in his comments after presentation had urged the AU to “endorse quickly so they could go ahead to identify the technical expertise required for implementation.” Accordingly, it has become rather difficult to separate the actual views and wishes of the AU as an independent organization, from the wishes and views of the AU Taskforce and the special interest groups that this putative advisory body and their cohorts represent.
1b) Using the AU to serve the needs of a “Special Interest Group” by hiding behind the profusion of ‘Internet Governance’ organizations
Again, in this confused meddlesomeness, it has become also rather difficult to properly distinguish between the African Union as a ‘community of member-states in Africa’ from an ‘African Internet Community’ that has been loosely defined to conveniently comprise of AfriNIC, AfrISPA, AfNOG, AfTLD, AfCERT, AfrICANN, AfRALO, AfREN, etc; most of them existing only in name and many others either lacking proper legally constituted corporate formation documents or proper official establishment within any given jurisdiction in Africa.
We believe that this ruse has gone on for far too long – and DotAfrica is being hijacked to serve the needs of the special interest groups behind the profusion of ‘Internet Governance’ organizations in Africa, and the individuals behind these schemes want to take over DotAfrica as they chase after filthy lucre in the pursuit of an entirely self-serving and rent-seeking agenda.
1c) Hijacking a “Geographic” TLD for Community Use & Ownership
It is generally agreed that DotAfrica is a geographic TLD by definition and is supposed to serve diverse needs and interests as a generic Top Level Domain based on ICANN delegation specificities into the root zone of the Interent Domain Naming System (DNS), but the so-called African Internet Community believes that DotAfrica should be community owned.
Why a geographic TLD should be community owned has not been made clear by the leaders of the ‘community’, who have now gone ahead to indicate in the RFP document that the winning bidder should bear in mind that: “This is a geographical TLD which should be run on behalf of the community”, and “Collaborate with the Internet community on the project” and “Lead the effort to create an active domain name community in Africa”.
1d) “Community of Nations in Africa” vs. “African Internet Community”
It is crystal clear from all these open allusions to ‘community ownership and collaboration and creating an active domain name community’ that the amorphous African Internet Community is determined to hijack DotAfrica for itself and has simply used the machinery of the AU – especially its power over African governments and diplomatic influence as an inter-governmental organization – to achieve their desire.
Since the AU always recalls and reaffirms whatever resolutions that is convenient for it to cite, either issued by the Assembly of Heads of States, or the Council of Ministers; even though these resolutions, for whatever they are worth, do not count as actual endorsements as far as the ICANN new gTLD Applicant Guidebook is concerned, it is important that we know that credence can only be given to the ‘community of nations in Africa’ an entirely political construct for the purposes of inter-governmental relations and cooperation or people-to-people, and not, to the ‘African Internet Community’ which does not need the resolutions of African Heads of States and Council of Ministers to approve that it should be allowed to gain control of DotAfrica as a community-owned Internet resource to be operated and run on behalf of the ‘community’.
If the African Heads of States and the Council of Ministers really knew??? that a discredited DotAfrica Task Force has been acting with impunity and appropriating decisions in their name, in the furtherance of a selfish agenda that will only benefit the so-called leaders of the ‘Amorphous African Internet Community’, it would have since approved of its disbandment and a Panel of Inquiry to look into the activities of this Cabal.
2- The AU DotAfrica Task Force is making a Mockery of the ICANN new gTLD Process
2a) The AU RFP process will be used to Pre-select who will Operate DotAfrica:
More insidious and more worrying however is the fact that the RFP process has been used to mask their real desire; for it enables them to hand-pick pliant groups and collaborators that will participate in this unwholesome enterprise so that the companies that participate in the mandatory Consortium will then receive the mandate for DotAfrica. The RFP as designed will be used to pre-qualify prospective applicants who would be forced to disclose their ICANN bid strategy for evaluation by the AU Task Force members prior to the commencement of the new gTLD application window on January 12, 2012, and whatever information is disclosed becomes a property of the African Union Commission. Will this type of usurpation not make mockery of the ICANN new gTLD programme?
Does the implied assumption that whoever is pre-selected and chosen through this RFP process to operate DotAfrica not contravene ICANN’s rights and privileges regarding the evaluation of gTLD application and resulting delegation of any new gTLD under the current programme?
2b Mandatory Requirement to Form a Consortium to Favor Certain Groups in Order to Achieve a Fait Accompli
The RFP document states that ‘eligible bidders should be a consortium of African ccTLDs, registrars, business community organizations or consortium of African ccTLDs and international registrars, businesses and community organizations. The insistence on the formation of Consortium is simply to give those they favour the opportunity to participate and manipulate the outcome of DotAfrica, because, in their estimation, any group that the AU endorses (and signs the contract with) should be delegated the DotAfrica gTLD; either automatically via a separate process of negotiation of the gTLD outside the ICANN gTLD programme (should DotAfrica and its similar strings be included in the Top-Level Reserved Names List by ICANN); or should they not get approval for the Reserved Names from ICANN, by submitting a gTLD application to ICANN simply as a mere formality since the ownership of DotAfrica by the community is already considered a fait accompli.
Therefore, the AU DotAfrica Task Force does not expect that there will be any open competition for the DotAfrica gTLD at the ICANN level. It is aiming to seize and gain full control of the DotAfrica process with the belief that only the AU’s chosen partner will be awarded the mandate for DotAfrica, since it will claim that its partner has already received an endorsement through the RFP process.
Is this the purpose of the ICANN new gTLD programme?
Should such a serious multi-stakeholder effort of global import that took many years of hard work be subjected to this shambolic maneuvering that is being orchestrated through a farcical RFP process? Why should a largely discredited Task Force be allowed to subvert and midwife a process and have its way? Why should this travesty be tolerated?
3 – Why DCA says “NO” to the African Union RFP:
It is for these reasons that DCA has decided not to participate in this sham RFP process and also urges prospective bidders to also avoid the RFP. DCA wishes to justify its positions as follows:
1.A flawed and discredited extraordinary RFP process: As a victim of unfair treatment, injustice, illegality and possible corruption, DCA has evaluated its chances and decided not to participate in the AU RFP process, and would campaign against it as a flawed and discredited extraordinary process outside the ICANN new gTLD programme that is being introduced to foster illegality and benefit the opponents of DCA. DCA believes that the present RFP is a resurrection of the previous EOI process that failed for which reason its outcome was not made public.
A pre-determined outcome of RFP: That previous EOI round in May 2011 had attracted important expressions of interest from international registries such as Neustar, but since they were not favored by the Cabal, they were not selected, and a new RFP process has now been floated with the extraordinary requirement of establishment of a Consortium that will include the favored candidates of the Cabal. Again, we believe that the RFP will be a time-wasting exercise for any international registries that participate in it the same way the EOI was a time-wasting exercise. The expected outcome of the RFP is already pre-determined to suit the preferred Consortium of the Cabal and cannot be considered transparent. For example, the ARC was not even established at the time of the EOI, and having failed to win any community following or endorsement, the new RFP process has been instituted in order to give the ARC the chance to participate.
The prescription to form a Consortium: It is widely known that the ARC had been formed with the hope of soliciting and winning an expression of interest from the AfTLD (see http://www.africaregistry.net) but this relationship was rejected by the AfTLD because the ARC did not meet their requirements. The prescription to form a Consortium has been simply put in place to favor ARC and ‘reward’ it as an African registry with an African-based backend provider. Such blatant act of nepotism is not only condemnable as a serious disservice to public accountability but also discredits the entire RFP process as something that lacks transparency and full probity.
Lack of Competition: We believe that such a mandatory requirement by the AU Task Force to form a Consortium goes against the principle of free competition that is an implied requirement in the present new gTLD programme of ICANN.
DCA’s participation in AU RFP is Volunteering for Execution: DCA has no faith in the activities of its detractors such as the AU DotAfrica Task Force members, the proponents of dotafrica.org, who have already colluded openly with other prospective applicants for DotAfrica such as the AfTLD and the ARC, and now wish to gain the AU’s endorsement for their selfish schemes through the RFP process.
DCA believes that these groups would go to any lengths to undermine the chances of DCA, like they did in the past, by employing outright sabotage and other underarm tactics and unethical practices to forestall DCA’s success in the present RFP.
For example, Nii Quaynor, Vice Chairman of the AU DotAfrica Task Force had made the following statement about one year ago via a public email: “I think its more responsible for the regional organization (AUC) to hold the string in public trust and have policy oversight, especially so with these likes of practices of DCA. This has been what the African community has helped to achieve.” From such statements, it is clear that there is a deliberate plan to frustrate the aspirations of DCA which the members of the AU Task Force already consider as an ‘achievement’. Therefore, participation by DCA in the already discredited RFP process is akin to volunteering for execution.
A stage-managed RFP process: Judging by the timelines indicated therein, the submission date is 8th December 2011, and a decision to announce the winner of the RFP will be made by 15th December 2011, that is, one week later. The anticipated date for knowing whether the ICANN Board has approved the AU’s request for the inclusion of DotAfrica (and similar name strings in any language) in the Top-Level Reserved Names List and giving a public response on the issue is 8th December 2011. Even the ICANN evaluation of new gTLD applications received will take approximately 5 months for the initial evaluation. It is therefore strange that the AU DotAfrica Task Force believes that it can perform all the required evaluations of the RFP responses received and announce a winner that will be the AU’s DotAfrica applying partner within one week ?
Major flaws in the RFP Document: To further buttress the assertion that the RFP is a stage-managed process, a thorough appraisal of the RFP document shows that it has been simply lifted from a prior document that was previously prepared for a consultancy assignment.
For example, the document talks about Breakdown of Rates in Section 2 (‘Information to Consultants’) whilst the breakdown of Time/Schedule for Professional Personnel in Section 4G for instance has no relationship to the prescriptions of the ICANN new gTLD Applicants Guidebook.
Again, the direct allusion by the RFP document that “the client is charged with the custody of African Unions funds” (in Section 1.2) is in dissonance with the clear statement elsewhere (for example in Section II – Scope of Services) that “the entity shall comply with the ICANN Applicant guidebook; it will thus ensure availability of all financial requirements.”
It is therefore quite evident that the RFP document contains a lot of inconsistency and contradictions, erorrs and simply traceable to the fact that the AU DotAfrica Task Force has rushed itself to issue the RFP document in utter disregard for teh need to prepare a proper document.
DCA would continue to uphold the higher ideals of transparency and fairness as it remains convinced in the righteousness of its cause, and that truth and justice will eventually prevail. There is no touchstone of respectability that justifies the ignoble actions of the Cabal, and they have no assurance of success. At some stage in this long process, they are bound to fail.
The RFP process is not credible and should be boycottedAccordingly, DCA would continue to insist on its existing endorsement letter that was validly granted by the AU since 2009. We believe that the endorsement was valid at the time it was issued, and whatever happened following the invidious attempt to deny DCA’s DotAfrica endorsement will be determined at the appropriate time through appropriate legal channels.
DCA reiterates its right as a stakeholder to apply to ICANN for the DotAfrica gTLD by utilizing its existing endorsement letter from the AU, and refuses to acknowledge all the mischief, chicanery, bullying and intimidation that have been contrived by its detractors to stop it from applying. DCA remains committed to the ICANN process, and believes that it will prevail at the end of the day simply based on the righteousness of its cause.