The year 2020 started like any other year with normal face-to-face activities. First on our calendar was Praia (Cabo Verde) followed by Bujumbura (Burundi). This quickly changed dramatically with the onset of COVID-19.
Like the rest of the global community, many of our activities at ICANN organization had to be quickly recalibrated to work virtually, with ICANN org being one of the very first organizations to hold a virtual global meeting – ICANN67 – successfully.
In Africa, adapting to the virtual platform was a bit of a challenge, especially against the background of the long list of technical challenges and barriers that the continent is already grappling with in terms of Internet access. However, our team remained dedicated to our capacity development and knowledge-sharing mission, continuing to actively plan virtual events around the region. As a result, 2020 turned out to be a success with a number of firsts, and new insights.
Our team worked very closely with the ICANN community to advance our engagement agenda, despite the connectivity challenges that stood out with the sudden disruption of in-person meetings. One significant first was the development and finalization of the Africa Regional Plan for Fiscal Years (FY) 2021-2025 by the Africa Strategy Working Group. They truly achieved a key milestone by developing this document remotely, which is a true testament to the enduring principle of "One world, one Internet."
Another first for the region was holding a number of informative webinars, as well as capacity building workshops, virtually. A year ago, most engagement would have been done in person, especially for those on a local level. Some examples of these engagements, whether they were locally focused or regional, are: the regional webinar for the Middle East and Africa on ICANN's Open Data Program, the webinar series on Domain Name System (DNS) marketing and entrepreneurship held with the .rw registry and registrars, and the capacity building webinar for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Directors from the higher education institution members of the Association of African Universities (AAU).
To ensure our engagements were successful, a very deliberate decision was made to hold consultative calls in advance of our engagements with both our Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committee leaders from Africa, the regional regulatory associations, and the university associations. Our discussions led us to identifying the most relevant topics that could be tackled virtually, especially for the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry operators, and registrars. This resulted in engagements focusing on Universal Acceptance (UA) and Email Address Internationalization (EIA), Domain Name System (DNS) Abuse trends during the Pandemic, and DNS entrepreneurship and security.
ICANN org also covered these topics during a number of national, subregional, and regional events that we were a part of, such as the recent Africa Internet Governance Forum and the annual Africa Internet Summit (AIS20).
Lastly, but certainly not least, we managed to hold virtually what is now a staple of the Africa regional DNS event landscape, the eighth Africa DNS Forum 2020. Thanks to our partners with other Af* organizations (Af* organizations is a loose term used to describe a group of organizations that share responsibilities for coordinating the Internet technical infrastructure in Africa), this was a great success, with 257 participants attending. An interesting outcome of going virtual was that the forum ended up attracting a more diverse regional participation than would normally be the case.
As the curtains fall on this truly tumultuous year, we must recognize that substantial work has been accomplished. We want to extend our profound gratitude to the ICANN community and our partners in the region for their support, collaboration, and sheer determination which made this possible.
We have hope and courage that 2021 will usher in more promise, and we will all redouble our efforts to address our challenges as a continent.
Thank you, and warm wishes for a happy holiday and a prosperous New Year.