The launch of the .africa generic top-level domain (gTLD), sponsored by the African Union, will have to wait until the resolution of a legal dispute over how the management of the domain was awarded.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) awarded the management of .africa to South Africa's ZA Central Registry (ZACR) last year. But last week, the International Center for Dispute Resolution issued an injunction in favor of Kenya-based DotConnectAfrica Trust, which also applied to manage the domain.
With the injunction now in place, the launch of .africa will be delayed until the matter is heard and decided.
DotConnectAfrica was among the registries that applied for the management of .africa but was not picked. The registry reportedly did not meet criteria set by ICANN. DotConnectAfrica charges that ICANN's award of the administration of the new gTLD lacked transparency and the decision against its own application was "unfair, discriminatory and lacked appropriate due diligence and care."
The organization wants the International Center for Dispute Resolution to declare the process of awarding the management of .africa to ZACR null and void.
In its ruling, the International Center for Dispute Resolution said that "ICANN must immediately refrain from any further processing of any application of the dotAfrica in order to preserve DotConnectAfrica's rights to a fair trial."
In 2012, the Africa Union Commission and a number of African countries objected to DotConnectAfrica's application, claiming that the organization had neither the mandate nor the support to administer the gTLD.
On its part, ZACR enjoys the support of many African governments and organizations including the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the Africa Network Information Center (AfriNIC), the Africa Top Level Domains Organization (AfTLD) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad).
In its own endorsement of ZACR as administrator for .africa, the African Union said it looked at transparency, technical ability, financial stability, continental representation and experience. ZACR has been administering the .co.za for more than 15 years now.
The .africa gTLD is supposed to be a distinctive pan-African domain for regional online operations. Before the injunction, ZACR was set to release details about how individuals and organizations can go about registering .africa domain names.
The African Union Commission is expected to work with the registry operator to establish ways to promote the new gTLD.
Goals for the new gTLD include increased regional online content generation, the establishment of policies and rules on registration, intellectual property and dispute resolution as well as the promotion of information and communication technology use in the region, according to Abulkhirat Esam, an Africa Union Commission representative.