As we begin 2023, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on the past year and all that we have accomplished, and to look forward to the coming year.
ICANN offices, including the regional office for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) in Istanbul, remained closed for the greater part of last year. The Istanbul office partially reopened toward the end of September and began working in full operation as of 9 January 2023. Remote working has been the primary mode of operation across the entire region, with some in-person engagement beginning to resume in the third and fourth quarters of 2022. However, in 2023, we anticipate remote engagement to recede as the demand for face-to-face engagement is already on the rise.
One of the highlights of 2022 was the launch of the Coalition for Digital Africa, which is an ICANN initiative aimed at strengthening collaboration among stakeholders who share the common purpose of advancing the Internet in Africa and supporting national and regional digital transformation. The coalition was officially launched on 1 December at the 17th annual Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yet several of its projects were already underway.
ICANN announced the first project, the installation of two ICANN Managed Root Server (IMRS) clusters in Africa, on 28 February 2022. One of the clusters was deployed in Nairobi, Kenya, and was up and running on 15 November. During the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, ICANN also announced the launch of a pilot project aimed at developing the capacities of 10 country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registries in Africa. A third project that had been in the making prior to the official launch of the coalition, in collaboration with the Internet Society, is to support the development of Internet Exchange Points across Africa. This collaboration will formally be announced soon.
The Coalition for Digital Africa has more infrastructure-related plans for more such infrastructure in 2023 and beyond, along with the implementation of other projects and initiatives.
Technical engagement is one of the pillars of ICANN's stakeholder engagement efforts in the MEA region. Over the past year, a total of 47 technical engagement activities – from hands-on training and workshops to presentations at technical forums – have been conducted across the region, both virtually and in-person. Additionally, and due to the direct technical assistance provided to telecom operators and Internet Service Providers, operators in Cameroon, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, and Uganda have successfully enabled Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) validation on their recursive resolvers. For more details on our regional technical engagement efforts, read this blog. More technical engagement activities are already scheduled in the coming months, including hands-on training and engagement with telecom operators. These are in addition to the activities being carried out as part of the projects and initiatives envisioned under the coalition.
Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) and Universal Acceptance (UA) are two other areas of focus over the past year. Many webinars and training sessions have been conducted in collaboration with the Africa Top Level Domains Organization and the Arab Information and Communication Technologies Organization, as well as with the UA Ambassadors in Africa and the Middle East.
While the technical training mainly targets system engineers and software developers, other engagement activities are geared toward more strategic aspects and are aimed at government agencies, business associations, ccTLD operators, and domain name registrars. This will be a key area of engagement throughout 2023.
As we celebrate UA Day on 28 March 2023, several national and regional events are expected to take place in Africa and the Middle East on or around this date. Further UA-related activities are also planned under the Coalition for Digital Africa.
I am grateful and privileged to work with the MEA engagement teams in the field, as well as the teams in the Istanbul office, who bring significant expertise in various areas and provide tremendous support to all our work in the region.