Sunday, December 4, 2022
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InterviewPioneer of .Africa and Ethiopia’s tech sector requests the AUC to review...

Pioneer of .Africa and Ethiopia’s tech sector requests the AUC to review a decade-old injustice

Despite not winning the battle over the .Africa Domain for her organization, Sophia Bekele, the award-winning and renowned Africa’s Digital champion continued to hold the torch to the benefit of the Internet community making multiple precedential wins on her efforts.  She now calls for the African Leadership to investigate fraud allegations committed by the AUC bureaucracy.

Battles are not uncommon in Africa.  Among one that continues to roar is one led by the Ethiopian-born American Sophia Bekele Eshete, the founder of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Trust, based in Mauritius. Sophia initiated the .Africa internet domain name during her tenure as a high-level internet policy advisor at the United States-based, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) – the global governing body for the internet. Sophia then introduced it to the UNECA and African Union and received an early endorsement in 2008 and 2009.

Several other countries had also individually endorsed including the Ministry of Communication of Kenya and Ethiopia at the time. Since the announcement of the endorsement, Sophia went through a gantlet fight against a rising “vested group” for the rights of the .africa domain name. Sophia took her arguments publicly via a social media “no campaign” she utilized, which won her all her victories in Africa. But a larger court battle was yet to brew with the powerful internet organization, ICANN.

After ICANN rejected her application for .africa, she became the first applicant under this new program to lead the effort to take ICANN to an accountability hearing under an international arbitration in New York and win. Soon after, when she realized ICANN still refuses to give the rights to the domain, she led the effort to take ICANN to a United States court in Los Angeles at the organization’s headquarters, alleging fraud in how they handled her application for the domain name. Ten years later after the legal dispute started, the journey of .africa has gone through literally three courts in California, and a number of Judges had ruled in favor and also contrary to the case. Unfortunately, the final outcome did not favor her organization.

Nicknamed by the business community as “Bill Gates of Ethiopia”  at the time, Sophia and her companies won and successfully commissioned the first and largest IT project in the country – in partnership with the United Nations, a fiber optics-based networking infrastructure for the African Union Secretariat, a project that involved connectivity with its six buildings and a 12-floor high rise and supply of computers and peripherals and training.

The Reporter is granted an exclusive interview via zoom with this trailblazer.

The Reporter: What were your implementation plans for the .africa domain?

Sophia Bekele: As the first step in the implementation of our investment strategy, we set up the DCA Trust Corporate HQ is in Mauritius, Africa, and organized a local company in Kenya (DCA Registry Services). The latter was to facilitate the establishment of the technical and operational presence to run the Registry. We then executed many important partnerships with several key companies including hosting the internet infrastructure with Safaricom plc, which was the first of its kind business model for them at the time.

DCA partnered with one of the longest-running and UK-based registry operators CentralNic, and FinCom Afric, a Kenyan-based tech firm to deliver top-tier service. Thus, we had a great company and did not run alone. The Kenya Ministry of Communications under Hon. Samuel Poghisio had also honored us with an endorsement at the time for this idea and effort. The DCA announced the establishment of a World-Class Registry System Infrastructure to be located in Nairobi, Kenya

Tell us the status of your court case in California?   

Despite all our efforts, we lost a court battle to ICANN. that stopped our case from moving forward.  We stayed the course because we were winning most of the time and were scheduled for a Jury trial.  We were very confident we were going to win our case against ICANN.

ICANN knew if it went to a Jury trial, the DCA had a great chance to win. Therefore, they introduced a rare legal procedure “Judicial Estoppel (JE)” and fought ardently to pressure the court to run a two-day bench trial to rule only on this legal technicality. Instead of being the victim, the reverse situation happened for the DCA, as ICANN became the defendant and the court accepted their argument to shut down our case without the merits being heard.  

So your case did not go to trial on its merit and the entire six years in court were spent on legal procedural matters?

Unfortunately, yes. The judge tentatively ruled in favor of DCA against the JE and scheduled the jury trial on the merit retired before the final hearing could take place. Thus, a mistrial was declared and another Judge was appointed and we had to redo the entire two-day bay bench trial on the JE for a new decision.

The premise of the first Judge in rejecting ICANN’s proposed legal strategy above was that the DCA alleged fraud and California law allows for fraud cases to be tried. This last Judge presiding however ignored any ruling from the previous Judge and granted ICANN what they asked for, exercising his powers of discretion, but with total disregard for the law. This decision then blocked DCA’s merit from being heard. We appealed but the higher courts affirmed the lower court’s decision and so, the merits of our case now cannot be heard in any US Jurisdiction.

What exactly was it that was not heard?

The merit was only about the contentious matter of the AUC endorsement. We passed all the technical and financial evaluations at ICANN with flying colors, scoring more points on financial capabilities than ZACR. However, after nearly eight months of registered progress and spending a huge amount of campaign financing and investment work across Africa, the AUC endorsement we were granted by the AUC Chairman, Ping got controversial.

The endorsement was said to have been withdrawn by the AUC Deputy Chair, Mr. Erastus Mwencha, but not with a proper “withdrawal” letter. Moreover, by the time of the court trial, the DCA had established that the ICANN RFP/rulebook does not in any way suggest that applicants renew the endorsement they received originally. Rather, the rulebook asserts to get an early endorsement by applicants.

Likewise, that endorsement cannot willfully be withdrawn, unless the applicant violated the registry operations agreement it signed with the endorser. Therefore, whatever ICANN was challenging the DCA in this regard, was subject to a judicial evaluation, which never happened, because ICANN made sure our case was blocked from being heard.

Did the AUC justify to the public why they wrote a second letter after endorsing the DCA?

Of course not, they could not accept such misconduct in public. The DCA is the one that publicized AUC’s second letter as well as their wrongdoing. I received an endorsement from Chairman, Jean Ping after I presented it to his office. Chairman Ping also asked his Attaché,  Amb, Antonio Tete   to handle it and get the area Commissioner to approve. The Commissioner of Infrastructure, Elham Ibrahim, then wrote a letter of support for us and copied the Chairman’s office, to which I was then presented. This was the process followed.

The second letter was written by his Deputy, Erastus Mwencha, eight months later. After it came to his attention late after his term, Ping simply informed me that, his original letter can’ be withdrawn willfully.  An endorsement is a legal letter. He then advised that my US lawyers should be able to understand this. I tried various times to contact the Deputy’s office out of courtesy and to clarify but was ignored. The second time I met the deputy Mr, Mwencha was only at a deposition in the US, where he was testifying on behalf of ICANN.

Your company won an accountability hearing against objections brought by the AUC that ICANN accepted illegitimately.  Can you please clarify?

Rightfully so. The process is called an Independent Review Panel (IRP). In 2013, the DCA was victorious when a three-panel judge ruled in DCA’s favor regarding AUC’s illegitimate objection to our application and ICANN accepting it. However, they never ruled on the merits of our case, which was the endorsement. Unfortunately, the hearing was only limited to stating that “ICANN broke its bylaws” and did not address the endorsement issues. But to DCA’s precise conflict of interest (COI) claim we filed, a person by the name of Alice Munyua (Kenya) who inserted herself to be an AUC representative was officially objecting to DCA’s application, which a later court deposition with ZACR disclosed that she was, in fact, a paid consultant working for ZACR at the time.

The DCA had earlier reported her COI to ICANN and also disclosed to others at the time that members of ZACR‘s affiliates were also on the evaluating committee of the ICANN and AUC RFP. The DCA reported all these inappropriate meetings and unholy alliances to ICANN and the AUC, but no action was taken. 

What was the controversy on the IRP Panel’s report that ICANN redacted that you said was a cover-up?

Well, there was a discovery that took place for nearly 18 months during the above IRP that eventually disclosed that ZACR, the AUC proxy, did not have the proper endorsements to pass the ICANN RFP. ZACR did not have a sufficient African country-specific endorsement to meet the ICANN requirements for geographic domains, whilst misleading the public that they had the 60 level of African endorsement to stop the DCA from applying.

ZACR instead deceivingly submitted to ICANN the various letters collected by the AUC from African governments to reserve the .africa name. No African government has written to ZACR by name.  ZACR previously, Uniforum, simply rode on the back of DCA’s globally esteemed “Yes2dotAfrica campaign” and the controversy created by .africa to raise its name. No one knew ZACR.

In addition, the report included how ICANN Staff, (later in a court deposition to identify as the ICANN CEO, Fadi Chehadé, illicitly delegitimized DCA’s bid for .Africa by rejecting both DCA’s AUC and UNECA endorsement, against the proper advice of ICANN’s own “evaluators” that our endorsements were valid.  The CEO then ghostwrote a qualifying letter for ZACR showing ZACR had enough support from the African continent to qualify to run .Africa. In fact, to date, DCA had passed all evaluations, including technical, financial, and endorsement.   

The ICANN lawyers redacted the IRP declaration to whitewash ICANN’s staff role in these actions.  Upon DCA’s protest, however, ICANN was forced to release un-redacted report, exposing these ICANN’s misconduct in the processing of DCA’s .africa application. ICANN redacting the issue of the merit on the endorsement after DCA’s IRP win is exactly in parallel with the technicality of the law they argued to be applied in court that muted our case not to be heard on its merit at a jury trial.

I would like to note as of today, ICANN, as a custodian of the internet governance organization, remains controversial with nearly 21 IRPs filed against the organization to date and various court cases concerning this same global domain program that was launched in 2012.

Was the AUC aware that ZACR did not have African government support and used the letters given to AUC “reserve name” by African governments instead?

Indeed. After DCA won the IRP we wrote various “special communications” letters to the AUC Chair office as well as copied relevant bodies to ensure that DCA Trust overcame the AUC objections against our application and to develop a roadmap for future cooperation with AUC anchored on positive actions. However, we received no replies. Therefore, despite our IRP win, ICANN placed our application to be re-reviewed and kept hounding the DCA for an update on our AUC endorsement given they knew that the AUC is part of the ZACR application. At this critical juncture of the second evaluation, when the AUC learned that DCA was going to pass the endorsement process using the UNECA endorsement, the AUC Commissioner of Infrastructure, Elham Ibrahim went as far as writing a letter to the UNECA to insist that they withdraw our dully given endorsement by the previous Executive Secretary and protesting to ICANN to accept.For the lack of the seating, Executive Secretary (2012-2016) Dr. Carlos Lopes refused to sign it based on legality, a local legal secretary volunteered to sign and was sent to ICANN. The DCA characterized this action as most inappropriate with a rejoinder letter clarifying the issue to AUC and ICANN but to no effect.

Is this when  DCA went to court?

Eventually yes. This is the time ICANN failed the DCA again, illegitimately. The AUC had no business interfering in the bid process, and worst, ICANN should not have accepted it, contrary to their own evaluators who previously vetted that the UNECA qualifies as a legitimate endorsement. At this point, the DCA, after exhausting all accountability processes at ICANN, had no option but to go to court.

Despite ICANN’s later claims, neither any ICANN rules nor practices were in place to tell an applicant to go through a revolving door of an IRP. All these shenanigans that were ignored by ICANN were expected to be part of a juridical examination by the scheduled Jury trial, which ICANN managed to block through the technicality in court. 

Were your opponents “the vested group” the same as your competition?

Calling them “opponents” is better than “competition,” because they never had the financial capability or the platform to get .africa done, the reason they failed. The vested groups that were opposing DCA Trust and campaigned against DCA had no moral ground but simply wanted it for themselves. The “No campaign” DCA employed publicly on social media, was very effective in exposing their wrongdoings and ineptitude. Most of these groups then later joined together and went to the AUC Infrastructure Commission, led by Ibrahim to lobby against the DCA.

They were then allowed to self-appoint themselves as “AUC DotAfrica Taskforce” spearheaded by then AfriNic member, turned later an ICANN employee, Pierre Dandjinou, made up of AfriNic and Aftld groups calling themselves the “African Internet community”, excluding DCA.

As of today, this AfriNic group is reportedly in a “crisis”, smeared with a high-profile court case in Mauritius concerning irregularities and allegations of corruption filing against it.

What was the role of the “AUC DotAfrica Taskforce”?

After excluding the DCA, they mislead the AUC to ‘reserve’ the .africa name for AUC’s benefit directly from ICANN.  It is at this point that the AUC fought the DCA hoping to get it for themselves. The first step was to have the Deputy send us the purported “withdrawal” letter. This letter was dated eight months after our original endorsement was written and after the DotAfrica Taskforce was formalized at the AUC, evidencing they have influenced the process.

The proof is in the pudding. The next step was that  Commissioner Ibrahim led by her task force took a hostile takeover of our project and wrote to African governments not to support DCA requests via a formal document titled “Briefing Note on .Africa”, to which DCA was forced to rejoin. This document requests that the AUC be given a mandate to “reserve” .africa  instead, and even refers that AUC has never heard of DCA, while it was evident the second letter the Deputy wrote referenced the first letter granted to DCA. They were blinded by dishonesty, so they could not account for their actions.

Last, the AUC, managed to garner numerous letters from African Ministers, as DCA did. However, these letters instructed ICANN to “reserve” the .africa name for the AUC under a “special legislative protection” to benefit the AUC instead.

You have argued the domain names “.Africa” and “.EU,” are not the same, can you tell us?

Absolutely. This is part of ICANN’s policy development process over domain names, which has classified it as such. The entire industry knows this. The perception that the AUC taskforce gave to the AUC that the .africa name is the same as the .EU country-code name, and thus should be reserved for the benefit of the AUC or should be applied for by the “African community” was false, manipulative, and self-serving at best to their own agenda.

The .africa is a gTLD (Generic Top level domain) and can’t be a sovereign resource like a country-code domain like say the .et for Ethiopia or .ke for Kenya etc. Indeed it is a geographic name that requires authorization by African governments just like going to a country’s authority to get approval for use of registering a business name for commercial use.

I chose to go to the AUC first because I believed they could help get further individual African governments to support the 60 percent requirement by ICANN. Instead, the forest created a weed it fights to kill.

Why did ICANN not reserve the .africa name for the benefit of the AUC?

They could not for the same reason I stated above. The .africa domain is not a sovereign property that only the AUC can benefit from. It is a generic name and anyone should apply for it and the name to benefit all internet users. The AUC was hoping to get this done at the ICANN International meeting in Dakar, Senegal, also setting up a side “African Ministerial Meeting”, where they would crystallize their vision with ICANN board under an “Africa Agenda.”

Since the AUC DotAfrica taskforce could not compete with DCA openly themselves, after removing DCA from the AUC process, the taskforce recommended a different implementation process for .africa that would give them an upper hand and no other organizations would participate in an open process at the ICANN level. This process will then enable them to also select the registry operator they wanted, under the auspices  of the AUC, to which they already designate UNIFORM/ZACR, as the registry operator in Dakar. All this bypassed the ICANN RFP process, which was the official process to select a registry for .africa.  

It was evident that the AUC DotAfrica taskforce and the AU Commission were massively ignorant about the ICANN new gTLD process and simply hoped to use the AUC governmental power to override the International policy process of ICANN RFP which was established by the global community consensus. 

Therefore, DCA exposed this illegitimate agenda of the vested group by promptly publishing and distributing via social media hour by hour account of AUC’s action in Dakar in front of the international ICANN community.   and came out triumphant.  We also got the support of President Wade and the ICT Ministry of Dakar at the time not to endorse the proposed “reserve name” based on our argument.

When the AUC failed to get the .Africa for themselves from ICANN, why didn’t they just honor DCA’s original endorsement?

The vested group under the AUC DotAfrica Taskforce continued to be DCA’s opposition. This was part and parcel of being embarrassed and self-shaming themselves that I initiated .africa out of ICANN and they were part of the ICANN community long before me and they did nothing with it. 

This is a fact that the global ICANN internet community is aware. Therefore, for failing to apply for .africa themselves, they insisted on using the AUC to control the registry operator. They repositioned the AUC to issue an RFP to select their already preselected vendor in ZACR to endorse.

Finally, I strongly believe the vested group, mostly comprised of men, could not see women leading a pan-African project. At worse, the taskforce could have advised the AUC to endorse another preferred registry that can compete at the ICANN level if they could not have done it themselves, but they were not confident of the outcome. Therefore, the taskforce created a monopoly of the ICANN bid process as well as the AUC, in order to prevent DCA from participating anywhere. 

You said the AUC should not have the mandate to run an RFP process for .africa. Why?

The AUC should not have had the mandate to run an RFP, because .Africa is not a resource owned by the AUC. It belongs to ICANN.  How can an organization take over an external resource and run an RFP. It is irregular. For example, the AUC on a first come first serve basis just like the DCA, has willfully endorsed two other pan-African initiatives without any issues during those same periods. One was the African Media Initiative (AMI) based in Kenya, where I was an invited guest during their presentation at the AUC and another was the African Leadership Network (ALN) based in South Africa, of which I was an inaugural member.. There was absolutely no controversy or why .africa needed extra procedural requirements that would have informed Mr. Mwencha to inveigle him into writing the second letter, which then sabotaged our initiative.

Is this the reason why the DCA did not participate in the “AUC RFP”?

Not quite. It is more than that. Since the AUC failed to reserve the name for itself in Dakar, rather, the AUC again led by their failed task force opted to issue an RFP purported to select the same vendor to apply to ICANN on “behalf of the African community.” Recall, they already excluded DCA to be part of the “African community”. So, they run a sham RFP that forced the rules to include the AFTLD group, the purported “African community” (already its members part of the AUC Dot Taskforce) as part of the partnership with the chosen registry, which they already have pre-established with ZACR.

The taskforce already knew no one else will qualify for this AUC RFP except ZACR. The result was that the AUC RFP was entirely contradictory to the global ICANN’s RFP, in that it mandated .africa to be a “community application” owned and run by a “community”.

Who else participated in the AU RFP?

No one. The RFP mandate was a big problem, as to why international bidders or the DCA could not participate. The .africa application is supposed to be a “standard” application that a community can’t own, consistent with DCA’s application to ICANN.

Therefore, ZACR, the preselected registry by the taskforce in Dakar was quickly endorsed and given an appointment letter by AUC Commissioner Elham, without any competition. Despite all the above, the AUC had claimed blindly through its press release that the RFP was an international bid and attracted many registry operators and ZACR had won.

In addition to all of the above infractions, the AUC RFP also imposed to pick the AUC proxy organization that would administer the domain to agree to sign a separate agreement with the AUC to give the right to .africa directly to the AUC, after it wins at ICANN, which is in violation of ICANN “registry operation agreement.”

However, ZACR agreed to everything the AUC wanted and applied to ICANN, knowing of all these violations to the ICANN RFP. So others including DCA could not have willfully participated knowing these violations. There was no winner or loser on the .Africa RFP at the AUC.  

You said that ZACR has violated the AUC endorsement it was given when it applied at ICANN?

Indeed. Despite the mock RFP, ZACR which has for long campaigned and represented its application as “community” was instructed in the endorsement letter to apply on “behalf of the African community” consistent with the AU RFP.   Moreover,  on the ICANN reveal day, everyone saw that ZACR  did not apply on “behalf of the African community” as the AUC RFP mandated. Instead, it applied as a “Standard” applicant to compete with DCA’s application. ZACR even went as far as to deceive the AUC, by objecting DCA’s application based on “community” grounds and failed.

Therefore, the DCA and the rest of Africa who were objectively watching wondered why the AUC, a pan-African continental organization, would allow such bias and nepotism and allowed our initiatives to be sabotaged in such a polluted manner. But we came to know that the AUC itself was hijacked by the AUC DotAfrica Taskforce, which was misleading them from end to end.  It is a big tragedy, and the African people and Governments should know about it.  We actually wrote a timely letter to the AUC about all this, but received no reply.

You say that rather ICANN qualified ZACR for .Africa in a quid pro quo with the AUC?

Correct. At this juncture, ICANN has already gone into a huge organizational conflict of interest within itself after it launched its new internet expansion program. ICANN wanted to transition from the US oversight its mandate, which required a global government endorsement itself. 

Thus, when the DCA announced its endorsement from the AUC and its role as an intergovernmental organization that has 54 African Governments under its membership, ICANN had conveniently plotted at the opportunity to use the AUC for its end game and started courting the favor of (AUC), the reason it betrayed the DCA quickly. For eg. The AUC was opportunistically invited to join by ICANN and GAC, just before the application open period in 2013, to provide a platform to object to our application on behalf of its own, which was done by the ICANN Chairman’s recommendation when AUC failed to reserve .africa in Dakar. Then ICANN CEO with his crew traveled all the way to Addis Ababa I n the midest of a .africa bid to court the AUC and UNECA in an AUC-sponsored agenda.

ICANN should have disqualified ZACR immediately for applying as a “nonstandard” application and for many other reasons, but ICANN was taking orders from the AUC. After the AUC became a member of ICANN’s Governmental organization, just to lobby for .africa, Moctar Yadely, Director of Infrastructure was heard at ICANN forums consistently threatening that the AUC will not support ICANN’s US transition, unless ICANN stops DCA’s application from moving forward. 

In fact, the Federal Judge ruled that Yadely “was a conflicted party” in this entire bid process and his conduct is biased against DCA’s application. Therefore, in this political quid pro quo with the AUC, ICANN manipulated the entire application process for ZACR unscathed to pass and DCA was left to be a pawn in their game.

So did the AUC eventually get the rights to .Africa with the proxy ZACR?

They could not. The only company that would have the rights to a domain name is the one that applied to it.  The AUC did not apply and could not apply, as the DCA had advocated many times, due to lack of mandate. It is a political organization.

In any case, DCA also pointed out to ICANN that the separate contract signed by AUC Commissioner’s office and ZACR to give .africa right to the AUC is null and void, and can’t even be enforceable because it is against ICANN’s own registry agreements, as rights to a registry cannot be reassigned other than by an applicant.  ICANN did not want any of these issues scrutinized under a Jury trial, which is the reason they fought to shut DCA’s case at all costs.

For the interested observer, it overwhelms judgment why the AUC has taken an unofficial role to give itself the mandate as the endorser, co-applicant, and convener of the process, simply to support another applicant, ZACR, when in factual matters, the AUC does not even appear in the registry contract for ZACR nor is a direct beneficiary in the matter. During the bid process, ZACR was just simply a beneficiary of AUC voices, as the AUC was doing the bidding for them.  Inadvertently, it was bizarre that the AUC seemed like the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) charades of the Afrikan-owned ZACR. 

You said the “.amazon” domain applied for by Amazon is similar to yours?

Yes, they had objections from numerous South American governments. They used DCA’s playbook to win the IRP. ICANN still refused to give to them due to the “continued opposition”.  But a single government, the US, intervened on behalf of Amazon and they got the rights. Now, how unfair was that treatment compared to the DCAs?

Why do you say ZACR is not suitable to run .africa?

First, ZACR was pushed by the AUC taskforce as the victor of the AUC RFP and did not even meet the basic ICANN application requirements, including financial. Second, the result shows, that nearly 16 years later, DCA is the better champion of .africa than the AUC proxy ZACR.

The evidence is none that the 28,038 registration (.africa Wikipedia) which should have been a registration number for the first one year. This is an embarrassing number for a digital Africa with over one billion people. ZACR had the first-mover advantage when it ran the .za, the South African country domain name 20 years ago, when there was no competition in the market. It boasts one million registrations, however, this figure cannot be validated as country-code domain names are sovereign properties unlike generic domains like .africa, and are not mandated to report their numbers transparently at ICANN.

Even so, ZACR has recently been reportedly given notice of termination of its contract for the country code .za domain name from the South African government, which it was managing under its previous incarnation, Uniforum SA. Reports cited “strained relations” and “price gouging”.

The DCA, on the other hand, has pioneered the initiative and thus has a great passion for it and support from the African people. Despite facing all these oppositions, our highly acclaimed six year “yes2dotAfrica” global awareness campaign, after receiving endorsements from both the AUC and the UNECA, had high pre-registration numbers, which now ZACR benefits from. We were also rated one of the top 50 attractive domain names globally among the 1930 top-level domain names applied at ICANN.

We got everyone excited and had unsponsored global media coverage that resulted in nearly 30million views of our campaign. It was a positive revolution for Africa. I saw it as a brand and a celebration of Africa in the digital space. Sorry to say, but ZACR has taken these celebratory efforts and buried them.   

You have served on a high-level policy counsel at ICANN during those periods.  It is interesting to see you went back to challenge them?

Indeed, when I take a position of leadership, I try to help the constituencies, as well as the organization, fulfill its mandate, which in ICANN’s case can be controversial. As a policy advisor to ICANN, I have seen many politically motivated policies as well as decisions like .africa that marginalized certain groups while benefiting others.

For example I led the efforts and championed the successful implementation of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) for the global internet community. ICANN is not just a technical policy body.   It is made up of Constituencies with so many defined interest groups and also others whose interests are conflicted.  It is simply like a parliament of representative groups.   Therefore, as an advisor to ICANN, it was my role to bring deficiencies to light and hopefully find a resolution.  So we did for the IDNs, whereby eventually countries like India, Russia, Israel, Korea, China, and many others now benefit from having their .com and .org types top-level domains under their own language and run their own registries and benefit from that economic gain, instead of the monopoly over the .com names they were forced to use.

Even if ICANN would never acknowledge my contributions due to the long dispute over the .africa name, I am very proud of that legacy I left with this group. I have a distinguished “letter of thank you “and recognition from the global IDN group framed in my place and the support they also gave me in my .africa efforts. Most of the pioneers themselves also came to be on our Advisory Board for DCA Trust to show their support.

Why did you fight for .africa for this long? 

Well, staying in the battle was a moral struggle that was compelling to me. First, there is the issue of Justice. I had to see it through.

Second, I have more wins than anyone else in this arena, including ICANN. Lastly, I was satisfied making a difference for others who could not do what I could do. Leadership is about doing what won’t be done, if no one is doing it.

What was the testimony of the AUC Deputy during his deposition? Did he explain the AUC’s position?

Not really.  It was the lamest excuse I have ever heard. The testimony of  Mr. Mwencha, in the presence of the DCA is recorded as “his people below insisted he did not follow procedures.”  It also appeared from his testimony that the actual language of the second letter appears to have been midwifed by the Commission’s office, as he said he has no knowledge of events thereafter.

He also said, “He did not follow what happened thereafter and knows nothing about it.”  But the DCA knew he was following our campaign closely, so we believe he knew. He even went as far as writing to the Chairman of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) to pester him to withdraw the endorsement he gave to DCA on .africa.  So the Deputy has done real damage to DCA by his actions and inactions. 

To DCA’s truth to power, the Deputy at least testified that DCA was the first to introduce both the .africa and the ICANN to the AUC and has not heard it from anyone else. He also validated that “Sophia” met with Chairman Ping and got the endorsement. All this testimony went against the statements in the so-called “Briefing Note” the AUC DotAfrica Taskforce authored for .africa, and that “the AUC does not know DCA”

This must also further embarrass ICANN as their own staff Anne Richell was plotting with the AUC Taskforce in sabotaging our initiative in emails to the African community that our endorsement was fake and not authentic, and even as far as going to the AUC to inform that AfriNic is more suited than DCA to run .africa instead of DCA.

At the deposition, I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Mwencha why they caused DCA all these problems. His reply was simply “I am sorry, you are a victim of bureaucracy”. His office was toothless not to call the DCA and confront the issue before they blindly accepted what their own bureaucrats have misled them on. But he thought the AUC had the upper hand in getting the name “reserved” by ICANN and sacrificed our work. This would have been a more honest answer by him.

It seems your long fight was not in vain, it had benefited others? 

Indeed. There were huge wins from a policy and legal perspective for the global internet community, but also massively contribute to the industry I am associated with, Corporate Governance.

The first win the DCA had was in July 2015 following the IRP suit that was filed by DotConnectAfrica Trust in October 2013 to challenge an ICANN Board decision. This set precedence on ICANN’s own Independent Review Process (IRP) at the International Center for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), when an International panel of Judges ruled ICANN violated its Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. We were the first applicant to challenge ICANN using this process and, delivered a legal punch in a process they themselves set up for an “informal” arbitration, which would have an outcome that would be legally “binding”.

The second win was in this last court battle when the court ruled in May 2017 in our favor in overturning the “waiver” that ICANN made all applicants sign, not to sue during the application.  That was a big blow to ICANN. This also set legal precedence as the DCA suit proved the limitation of the waiver and that ICANN can be sued.

This was not an easy ride for the DCA after ICANN rejected our application for the second time after the IRP.  The DCA did its own research on the waiver and went on a lengthy lawyer search to try to find and convince California Lawyers to take the case and try it. Because under California law if there is a case of fraud, it had to be tried and can’t be covered up with a waiver. I was very elated when we won that legal argument. For me, this is a victory that calls for a toast anytime!

Do you have a message for the AUC?

The DCA Trust believes a political intervention and solution is required as the AUC is seen to have haphazardly taken sides in helping one African organization achieve victory in the most immoral way, while burying the organization that actually initiated and pioneered the .Africa domain for Africa.

The AUC spent years and years fighting a simple African social empowerment organization – DCA Trust – led by women, who pioneered an initiative for the African continent investing more than a USD half a million on a project campaign, preparing partnerships and application materials after approval by the AUC.

Eight months later, the AUC would write a controversial second letter that sabotaged our initiative, influenced by a cabal that misrepresented the opportunity to them out of pure greed and spite.  Mr. Mwencha and the organization he led should be ashamed that they allowed an innocent NGO to carry such a huge moral and financial burden over 13 years with legal fees over USD two million and tell us that we are simply “a victim of their bureaucracy.”   I have never seen such a level of abuse of process, absolute denial of justice and the grayness of the law, as I have seen in the process of .africa. We are heartbroken. But weeds are not killed by the forest.

What would you like to see as an outcome?

The AUC’s Infrastructure Commission and the AUC DotAfrica Taskforce has been dishonest to the Chairman’s offices on their true intention for a pan-African internet domain “.africa” project and they should be held to account.

The entire .africa process, which was to be the epicenter of Africa’s branding and technology initiative, has been mishandled by the Commission and the outcome has been a great tragedy of accountability and fraud towards the transparent delegation of .africa to ZACR. This has misled the African people and the African Governments.   The low registration numbers show the lack of interest!

The DCA Trust has written to the offices of the new AUC Chairperson and calls for the AUC leadership and African Heads of State that believe in transparency, the integrity of processes, and equity to commission an investigation on the merits of the case “endorsement process” of this very important pan-African Initiative.

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