The rush to claim the .africa domain may be tripped up by an online real estate dispute

The bruising race isn’t over yet.
The bruising race isn’t over yet.
Image: Reuters/Radu Sigheti
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It was a winding trek to the .africa domain name, but users are finally able to start claiming their piece of this internet real estate.

Ultimately it’s the domain manager—in this case, ZA Central Registry (ZACR)—that will allocate or auction sites in the .africa domain. It’s a powerful position to hold in what is still a new but potentially lucrative online frontier, which is why a competitor is still contesting ZACR’s rights to the role.

Though a California court in February allowed ZACR the rights to administer the domain name, and the rollout has since begun, Kenyan registry DotConnectAfrica has not yet given up its bid. It is still running an online campaign promoting the .africa name as though it was responsible for it, and its Twitter page describes .africa as an “internet name space pioneered by the African based DotConnectAfrica to the benefit of the African people.”

The company has stressed that the .africa domain name is not only technologically significant, but culturally so, essential for the continent’s identity.

The protracted fight over the administrative rights, which began some four years ago, has not been without its benefits for ZACR and the brand-name recognition for the new domain. With 981 registrations in 60 days, .africa is already one of the 10 most popular geographic domain names, according to ZACR.

“The long journey to delegate the rights to administer .africa to the ZACR has clearly created a tremendous amount of pent-up demand for Africa’s new home on the web,” said Lucky Masilela, CEO of the South African registry.

The domain has already gone through the sunrise phase, allowing trademark holders to protect their stake of .africa before registration opens for the general public on July 4. Now comes the land-rush phase, in which applicants vie for prime .africa property before the domain goes live.

When contacted for comment, DotConnectAfrica referred Quartz to a lengthy interview in which its CEO, Sophia Bekele, vowed to continue the battle for the administrative rights. A tenacious Bekele said DotConnectAfrica is ready to take over ZACR’s rollout process of the .africa domain the moment a court rules in her favor. “I profoundly believe in the Rule of Law, Equity and Natural Justice, and I remain optimistic that this wrongful delegation that has been made by ICANN to ZACR will be overturned at the end, and the .Africa string re-delegated to DCA Trust,” Bekele told East African tech site CIO.

DotConnectAfrica’s gripe is with the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit charged with coordinating the world’s internet addresses. The Kenyan company has challenged the nonprofit’s objectivity. ZACR refused to comment on DotConnect’s decision to continue the four-year fight.