Heralding the birth of dot.africa generation

Organisations and individuals operating in Africa will soon have a variety of internet domain names to pick from, including “.africa.”
This follows a decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board to expand the generic top-level domain space from four — “.com,” “.org,” “.net” and “.biz” — to 21.

The African Union heads of state recently endorsed the “.africa” initiative at the Addis Ababa Assembly that ended on February 2. The endorsement followed a similar approval at the November 2009 Ministerial Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the Council of African ICT ministers acknowledged its benefits to the continent.

DotConnectAfrica, a non-profit organisation, will operate the “.africa” top-level domain registry, with help from sponsor organisations and business people. Sophia Bekele, the executive director of DotConnectAfrica, said the project is expected to boost regional integration and benefit the business community.

“Ultimately, we hope that the “.africa” domain will brand Africa and encourage increased participation on the internet,” said Sophia. Profits from the initiative, which is expected to be operational by next year, will be reinvested in socio-technological advancement projects that will benefit the continent.

“With over 900 million Africans, including stakeholders in government, the private sector and NGOs operating in the continent, the potential for economic development is enormous,” said Sophia, who is also a former elected advisor to ICANN.

However, the uptake of the ‘.africa’ domain could prove tricky as a number of people still prefer to use the more generic “.net” and “.com” domains for their online identity. To adress low levels of adoption, DotConnectAfrica is considering having second level names to make it affordable for individuals, charge more for corporations and have an exclusive section for government and related identities.

In another strategy to encourage adoption levels, DotConnectAfrica intends to advertise and promote an African identity by working with respective country codes’ top-level domain registries such as “.ke,” “.ug” or “.tz.”

“We will also work with foreign registrars as we promote ‘.africa’ as a one-stop domain, as we aspire to protect and advance their corporate brands and interests across Africa. These (foreign) domains should become more visible with owners spending more on regional advertising thereby educating the African public and driving local demand,” said Sophia.

The report of experts stated the need to establish the “.africa” domain as a continental top-level domain for use by organisations, businesses and individuals with guidance from African Internet agencies.