Friday, March 30, 2007

Finally, an African Regional At Large Organisation (AfRALO)

Yesterday I returned from Lisbon for the final acceptance of the African Regional At Large Organisation by ICANN. I just missed the official signing of the MOU by the ICANN President and each of the At Large Structures. This is the culmination of almost five years of work to get direct representation of all the Internet users in Africa.

The term "At Large" refers to all Internet users that are not represented by other constituencies of ICANN. ICANN is the global organisation which determines policy (the rules) by which the Internet names (e.g. domains such as .com, .org, and .za) and numbers (the 'IP address' that every computer gets in order to connect to the Internet). So is this relevant? I'm not sure how much, but for me, yes, I want my voice heard when it comes to making decisions like who will get to own a new domain like .africa (eg. if I buy who will benefit?) and how about a decision like who gets to benefit from the introduction of millions of new IP numbers? What if it's slow for Africa to adopt these numbers because of some bureaucratic oversight?

The latest episode of this five year project started at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech only seven months ago. After the meeting of ISOC chapters South Africa, Morocco and Sudan agreed to establish the chapter, to invite all other ALSs and establish an MOU with ICANN. At this meeting I volunteered to champion the process and I was asked to act as the interim secretary. Within a tight timeframe we managed to get the buy-in of all the accredited ALSs and the inclusive RALO was born.

We had some hitches as ICANN organised the resources to manage the At Large consituency and finally in October last year Nick Ashton-Hart joined ICANN and got things on the go. We had some back and forth and by February we had a draft MOU between the AfRALO and ICANN agreed. ICANN also kindly agreed to pay for a representative from each ALS to come to Lisbon to meet.

On Sunday we discussed and agreed on the nomination and election processes as well as roles and responsibilities (read more here). The salient points which we agreed as At Large structures to pursue communications with our members on were:

  • Users must be empowered in creating awareness of their ability to contribute to ICANN policies, and encouraged to participate through the ALAC and specific ALS
  • Users must be made aware of domain names and their ability to contribute towards 'fixing' any problems with their cctld
  • Internationalised Domain Names (special language characters in domain names)
  • What is a dispute resolution policy
  • What is Whois policy
  • The Western Sahara country code top level domain name

On Tuesday we elected Mohammed El Bashir (ISOC-Sudan) and Hawa Diakite (ISOC Mali) as the ALAC committee members representing Africa, and Didier Kasole as the secretary for the next year. I was so pleased to see such a great acceptance and buy in from all the ALSs and community. Success!

For more on the legacy (years of) work we did on this as the NAIS project (The NGO and Academic ICANN Study) please see the website :

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