In a recent interview with the CNBC Africa in Nairobi, during the third edition of the Africa DNS Forum, the question was raised as to whether any African registry or registrar has been successful in the domain name industry (DNS). In a different setting, during a casual discussion with one of the ICANN-accredited African registrars, he had this to say: "We are all struggling to make through. We are only managing this registrar business as we manage many African businesses. That is the African way; I mean, the informal way; we do many other services and business to keep afloat. But we are confident that things will improve." So, would this 'informality' be the source or explanation of the slow uptake of the African DNS market?
Our interest in the domain name business started a few years ago, at the so called 'MIGWORK' (Multistakeholder Internet Governance Works) meeting in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia which hosts the Africa Union. During that meeting, the incoming CEO and President of ICANN, Fadi Chehade, expressed his desire to have more ICANN accredited registrars in Africa and move the number from the paltry 5 or 6 registrars to 25 in coming years. The Africa DNS forum was then conceived, with the first one taking place four months later in July 2013 in Durban, South Africa with Dr. Steve Crocker, Chairman of the ICANN board, and Lynn St Amour, CEO of the Internet Society, presiding over the opening ceremony.
The Africa DNS Forum has now become an annual event and ICANN continues to partner with AFTLD, and ISOC to organize the gathering. It is expected that more partners will join and AFTLD, the main African registry group, will have to be strengthened to take a leading role in this initiative. It may well be that time has come for us to stop and look in the mirror to gauge the progress made since Durban, and map out the way for a brighter future.
On the whole, most recommendations from the three forums have revolved around the need to increase collaboration between African registries and registrars, the automation of registries and the creation of a data collection tool to facilitate trade and research on the African domain name industry. The question is, what is being done to actually implement these recommendations?
Looking forward, the African DNS industry will have to reconcile with global trends , and hopefully learn to cope with its' informality,' while still contributing to the overall uptake of domain names on the continent. The reality is that the domain name industry is going through significant change. In developed markets, barriers to entry have dropped as hundreds of new generic top-level-domains (TLDs) are being introduced. As such, substantial new sources of capital have been invested in the market. But this is yet to be the case in Africa.