With a domain name, Africa has opportunity to e-brand itself

By Fredrick Obura

Investors will pay lower fees to obtain website identities when Africa’s first domain name hits the road next year.

Kenya Network Information Centre (Kenic) Chairman Sammy Buruchara said the unifying name — dot(.)Africa — will appeal to firms when activated and attract lower charges.

"The fees charged on website identities is dependant on numbers — the higher the number of subscribers, the lower the price. The new name, because of its anticipated appeal to businesses, would draw in numbers," he said.

He said the annual fee could be lower than the Sh 2,500 to Sh4,000 charged by country registrars on the top-level domain names like the .ke for Kenya or the .za for the South Africa.

"Lower prices would be good for investors to establish their presence online, hence pushing Internet use up," he said.

For businesses, the name will benefit pan-African firms like Ecobank, United Bank for Africa among others, which are expected to push the brand through their global business partners.

He said the continent would also witness growth in the Information Technology industry, as more firms will venture into domain registrations, hosting and marketing. The adoption is also expected to create job opportunities for Africans.

Sophia Bekele, the Dot Connect Africa President said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a global Internet governing body, is yet to approve the creation of the dot Africa domain name registry. But there seems to be a lot of interest at the pan-African level.

"Many firms like mobile phone operator Zain, banks and other multinationals in the continent are excited about it," she explained.

Prospective users

Ms Bekele said besides the African Union and the African Development Bank (AfDB), prospective users of the dot africa name include South Africa’s MTN, EcoBank, United Bank for Africa and foreign firms doing business in Africa like Microsoft, Google and Coca-Cola.

"This would enable such entities establish their African presence visibly on the World Wide Web," said Charles Nduati, the Managing Director JKUATES.

The ICANN board is set to expand the generic top-level domain space — ".com," ".org," ".net" and ".biz" — from four to 21 by February. The development comes at a time when local Internet users are increasing, a fall in Internet prices and lighting up of fibre-optic cables like Seacom and the East African Submarine Cable System.

The domain name is expected provide Africa a new public relations platform for Africa in the world.

"It is an opportunity to brand and re-brand Africa by bringing products and services to the world," said Nduati.

Top-level domains

This year, ICANN approved the .uae name as the top-level domain for the United Arab Emirates following an application last year. Other domain names include the .eu for Europe and .asia for Asia.

Bekele, a former policy advisor to ICANN in 2005 and 2007, said the idea for .africa domain came up at the time she advised the corporation on existing top-level domains like .com and .org, and geographical names like .eu and .asia.

Bekele reckons that in November last year, the Council of African Internet Communication Technology ministers meeting in South Africa adopted a resolution to "establish dot Africa as Africa’s top-level domain for use by organisations, businesses and individuals with guidance from African Internet agencies."

Apart from Dot Connect Africa founded by Bekele in Mauritius, other private entities have also shown interest in managing dot. Africa.

Earlier this year, experts raised concern on the management of the impending domain name.

They questioned the level of trust the public could put on private managers of a continental resource like .africa.

They claimed certain bidders enjoy an upper hand despite lack of majority support across Africa. Just like the issuing process in Asia and Europe, Africa should follo procedure should be followed.

The participants in the ICANN’s 37th meeting in Nairobi argued that the dot africa domain name should not be left in the hands of private firms without the continent’s approval.

They said the commercial aspect of the name raises questionable doubt on trusting privately owned entities with the asset — dot Africa.

Narku Quaynor said Africa must be involved before the name is registered to ensure individuals do not hijack the name.

"No body should do business on behalf of Africa. Revenue from the name should be used for capacity development in Africa," she said.