The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers wrapped up its 42nd meeting in Dakar, Senegal, last week, with a commitment to continue supporting developing countries and steps taken to resolve a thorny issue related to management of the new .africa generic top level domian (gTLD).

The meeting attracted the participation of African governments and civil society groups as well as private and public sector organizations, with an African Union ministerial gathering taking place before the meeting started and a conference for Africa At Large Organization members occurring during the meeting.

When ICANN held its first meeting in sub- Saharan Africa in Cape Town in 2004, many African countries had problems managing their country code Top Level Domains and Internet infrastructure investment was low.

After 2004, ICANN invested in partnerships with AfriNIC, the regional internet registry, the Africa Top Level Domain Organization (AfTLD) and the Africa Network Operators Group (AfNOG) to train and support Internet infrastructure development while the country code Name Supporting Organization within ICANN has provided travel fellowships for African ccTLDs.

"African ccTLDs have benefitted greatly from participating in the ICANN ccNSO processes," said Vika Mpisane, president of AfTLD and general manager of the .ZA Domain Name Authority (ZADNA). "Some ccTLDs' infrastructure was substantially wanting seven years ago, but has since then improved substantially."

"This was substantially due to their increasing participation in ICANN, which helps expose our ccTLDs to non-African registry providers and ccTLD managers," Mpisane added.

During the Dakar meeting, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom said that the organization was willing to support the region more, and demonstrated this by unveiling the L root server copy operated by ICANN in California. The root server will increase the security and stability of the Domain Name System and help in resolving DNS queries faster. The root is hosted by NIC Senegal and attached to the Sonatel backbone in Dakar. Sonatel is one of the biggest telcos in West Africa.

"Root name servers are a critical part of the Internet," said Joe Abley, director of DNS Operations at ICANN.  "And this new Internet Root server in Dakar is part of an ongoing global effort to improve Internet accessibility and operations in under-served regions along with improving the security and stability of the Internet's Domain Name System for all users." 

Senegal is the first West African country to have a root server copy; Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique and Nigeria have benefitted from a project by AfriNIC, ICANN and ISOC that helps countries set up IXPs and subsequently get root server copies and other resources like Google cache that make the IXPs attractive to local ISPs and content providers.

The AU ministerial meeting, meanwhile, tackled thorny issues related to the .africa gTLD. The ministerial meeting agreed that the .africa gTLD should be reserved, meaning that organizations that want to bid to manage it must be sanctioned by the AU. ICANN's new gTLD application process provides for countries and regions with interest in certain names to reserve them.

"The fact that African leaders could meet prior to ICANN and agree on a communique that was delivered to the ICANN board is a big step; the African community also organized a Dot Africa forum which provided a platform for discussions and openness," said Pierre Dandjinou, former AfriNIC board chair and one of the .africa leaders within AU.

While the .africa gTLD is expected to benefit the Internet community in the region, not everyone is in agreement with the decision to reserve the .africa name and making it unavailable to everyone.

"Dot Connect Africa reiterates its firm opposition to the plan to include DotAfrica, DotAfrique and DotAfrikia in the List of Reserved Names so as to make these strings unavailable during the new gTLD application process," said a press statement issued by DCA after the AU ministerial communique.

"DCA believes that this is a plan that would make DotAfrica unavailable to other applicants simply based on a special legislative protection that will create an anti-competitive situation and unfairness."

There are questions whether AU has an interest in running .africa but Mpisane said that AU is only interested in making sure that .africa benefits Africa's Internet community.