Officials at Icann, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, acknowledge that they have failed to help Africa develop its ICT (information and communication technology) infrastructure, and are looking to set up outreach efforts on the continent.

In discussions at a recent meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, Icann executives admitted their failure to include African representatives in its policy-making bodies, according to Mohamed El Bashir Ahmed, chairman of the SIS (Sudan Internet Society). SIS is an association chartered to promote the internet in Sudan. Icann is the US-based organisation that supervises internet domain names.

The meeting, at the end of June, was called to discuss issues relating to the internet's security and growth, especially in Africa. One reason the internet is still relatively underdeveloped in Africa, Ahmed said, is that Icann has not been involving Africa in internet policy decisions.

Africans have called for representation in the Country Code Name Supporting Organisation, the Icann body that oversees global country code top-level domain names. African experts believe that inclusion in these bodies will strengthen efforts related to IDNs (internationalised domain names), corresponding technical difficulties related to the use of different languages and alphabets and encourage the establishment of regional IDN initiatives.

"In view of the diversity of internet users in Africa, issues such as multilingualism and multiculturalism have to be resolved," Ahmed said. "The involvement of Africa in Icann's policy-making bodies therefore will resolve the multilingual issue and is crucial to the development of the internet on the continent."

Currently, Icann plans to open an office in Africa that would co-ordinate the organisation's activities on the continent. The office will be responsible for formulating policies related to African internet development and will be interacting with African governments to identify outreach efforts that include setting up ISPs for remote areas.

At the moment, policies related to internet development in Africa region are made from Icann's Brussels office. Discussions on where to locate the Africa office are still under way, according to Anne-Rachel Inne, Icann's liaison officer for Africa.