By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
Africa is in the midst of an Internet revolution that is set only to accelerate. The continent is one of the last places to experience the information technology revolution that has swept the world in the past two decades.
Africa has been at a disadvantage for several reasons, the most basic of which has been the lack of bandwidth capacity available from the undersea cables that connect other continents to the Internet. A map showing the world’s undersea cable links says it all: the majority of traffic goes between Europe and the United States (http://www.telegeography.com/telecom-resources/telegeography-infographics/submarine-cable-map/).
But this is changing: a glance at recent developments with the launching of the Seacom, EASSy, MainOne and other cables shows a continent getting better connected by the year (http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/).
With seven out of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world between 2011 and 2015 projected to be in sub-Saharan Africa, the conditions are ripe to grow African Internet businesses. For example, Ghana, with its booming information technology sector, boasted 13 percent economic growth last year, among the fastest in the world.
In eight of the past 10 years, sub-Saharan Africa has grown faster than Asia (The Globe and Mail).
While Africa has come late to the Internet party, the continent can benefit from two decades of experience elsewhere to avoid making the mistakes others have. Africa can upload tried and tested Internet platforms and can also create new, Africa-specific platforms that tackle the continent’s own needs and challenges.
One of the ways to make the most of the opportunities presented by the Internet is to have an Africa-specific Internet domain name. A domain name (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domain_name) is the suffix placed after the period in Internet URL (uniform resource locator) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uniform_resource_locator) addresses. Common ones familiar to most people who use the Internet include .com (for commercial websites), .org (for non-profit websites and organizations), .co.uk (for British businesses) or .ca (for Canadian organizations).
The dot Africa (.africa) domain name will be available in the next 15 months according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) (http://www.icann.org/). It is currently reviewing 500 African organizations that have expressed interest in managing the domain name registrations, and will choose one at the beginning of 2013.
Countries such as Kenya and South Africa – two places in Africa with booming information technology sectors – are hoping to make the most of the new dot Africa domain name.
The idea is to use the dot Africa domain name to build a stronger brand for the continent’s Internet that will be bigger than the individual country domain names. Sophia Bekele, executive director of DotConnectAfrica, told CNN the suffixes for individual African countries had proven unpopular during the decade since their introduction.
Her organization found that 80 per cent of African domain name registrants had opted for “.com” or “.org” suffixes, which were price competitive, reliable to register and had wide recognition.
The country-level domain names suffered from being “usually owned by governments, and governments are typically not very good at marketing,” she told CNN.
Bekele’s research found young developers involved in creating local content felt a stronger affinity with the “.africa” suffix than to the “.com” domains. And the new suffix will let companies unify their presence across the continent under a single online brand.
A major benefit of the “.africa” domain will be that proceeds from African domain registrations remain on the continent, rather than flowing offshore. DotConnectAfrica says it plans to reinvest surpluses into developing the African Internet sector.
The African Union Commission (http://www.au.int/en/commission) is also looking to register the .afrique (French language websites) and .afriqia (Arabic language websites).
The AUC’s head of information society, Moctar Yedaly, told CNN the commission’s vision for the .africa domain is not just commercial.
“It may well be a very good business in terms of money generating. If it may generate some revenue we can use for the development of ICT in Africa, then that is all very good, but that’s not my primary goal,” he told CNN. “My primary goal is to ensure the identity of Africa, the image, the culture are well-maintained.”
Published: October 2012
1) The Wikipedia page on the .africa initiative. Website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.africa
2) ICANN: To reach another person on the Internet you have to type an address into your computer — a name or a number. That address must be unique so computers know where to find each other. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers across the world. Website: http://www.icann.org/
3) DotConnectAfrica, a non-profit organization registered in Mauritius, is one of the is trying win the right to manage the dot africa name space for businesses and individuals across the continent. Website: http://www.dotconnectafrica.org/
4) Dot.Africa: Dot.Africa is specialised in realising internet access for international organisations with sites in Africa. Website: http://www.dotafrica.com/about/index.html
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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