The scramble for the .africa domain name has been long and brutal, and it isn’t over yet

Who needs a map when you can just make it up?
Who needs a map when you can just make it up?
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya
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The scramble for the .africa domain name isn’t over yet.

A bruising court battle has dragged on for more than four years now. The main contenders came from Africa’s digital non-profit rivals: South African ZA Central Registry versus Kenya-based Dot Connect Africa. The embattled adjudicator: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the California-based non-profit charged with coordinating the world’s internet addresses.

The .africa domain name would be a generic top level domain, similar to the all powerful .com. This is more than a matter of national pride though. In 2012, ICANN launched the General Top-Level Domains Internet Expansion Program in a bid to create a more diversified and competitive domain name market.

For users, having the .africa domain name may make it easier to find regional-specific information targeted at a fast-growing population of internet users. While both companies are non-profits, distributing the sought-after domain name is bound to come with power and funds.

ZACR was formed in 1988 and focuses on open standards and increased access. It had the support of the African Union (pdf) during the bidding process. DCA has been around for just over 10 years, and launched  a public campaign to support its bid.

It’s worth noting ZACR won the bid already, back in 2013. However, DCA would not give up without a fight, launching motion after motion in the US court system to stop ICANN from handing over the domain name.

Last December, a California district court judge dismissed (pdf) DCA’s most recent motion for a preliminary injunction against awarding the domain name to ZACR.

The court argued that any further delay was more harm to the people of Africa who were denied the right to a continental domain name while the court case dragged on. And besides, Judge Howard Halm just wasn’t convinced that DCA would win in a trial court. DCA isn’t giving up though.

“The decision—which displays a lack of understanding of the internet registry business, making it vulnerable to challenge—is the first time that DCA has not prevailed against ICANN, despite a huge disparity in resources and information,” according to an industry report posted on the DCA website.

DCA has long been critical of ICANN’s procedures in handing out domain names, accusing it of bias and unethical management. There is some merit to DCA’s complaints, after an independent review found that ICANN lacked transparency.

Whatever the next step is in the legal tussle, ZACR is ready to start distributing .africa.