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Moving ICANN Meeting from Marakech Would Send the Wrong Message

Reports of the cancelation of the ICANN 52 meeting in the Moroccan town of Marrakesh appear to be exaggerated.

They did, however, force the organization to issue a statement on Sunday confirming that while “no decision had been taken yet” ICANN was considering postponing the meeting in Marrakech scheduled for 8-12 February, 2015. This would a mistake, in our opinion—and in the minds of a surprisingly large cross-section of the business, NGO and other ICANN regulars with whom we’ve spoken—for the region, for the community, and for ICANN’s much touted plans to become truly “international”.

The exact rationale for moving the venue is a bit unclear, as social media is abuzz with all manner of speculation. Most rumors have the cause as fear of ebola—despite the fact that there have been more cases in the US than in Morocco. We have heard rumblings that security might be the cause. But we need only look at last week in Canada to be reminded that the world is a tricky place these days, and that any true international organization needs to adapt to this new reality, no matter where we go.

We’ve heard concerns about Morocco’s decision to drop its hosting of the African Cup of Nations—though this is a completely different group of attendees and a huge number of people compared to an ICANN meeting. And we’ve heard that somehow this would lead to discrimination against possible attendees from affected countries. However if one checks the registration on the ICANN website for the last five meetings we see that a maximum of four persons from these three countries (Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone) were registered to attend, with an average of two persons per meeting. And these restrictions would no doubt be in place should the venue be moved.

We need to be clear: moving from Marakech would send a signal. At a time when African participation is at historic levels and ICANN’s “Africa Strategy” is a subject of much interest, its hard not to see this as a vote of “less confidence”, one that could unintentionally hurt a gracious host nation and the West African region as a whole. Africa has done much to embrace ICANN and the multistakeholder model. If we as a community turn tail and run at the first sign of trouble some 1600 miles to the south, what are we saying back?

Without question, we as a community will need to become more sophisticated in dealing with ICANN’s new increasingly international character. We may need more security at meetings, and we will certainly need to keep an eye on ebola or any other potential threat to a venue. But shunning Morocco—a country that has worked hard to modernize and expand its tech sector—well, this would be the wrong approach.

We have choices. And its true what they say in the film Casablanca (also in Morocco): “We’ll always have Paris…” But actions, not rhetoric, define us in the public mind. If we want ICANN meetings to be truly inclusive and truly international—more than just a chance to “round up the usual suspects”—then its time to put our money where our mouth is. We should stay in Marakech.

Co-authored by Andrew Mack and Chris Chaplow.

By Andrew Mack, Principal at AMGlobal Consulting

Andrew Mack is Principal of AMGlobal Consulting, a specialized Washington, DC-based consulting firm that helps companies do more and better business in Emerging Markets. A former World Bank project manager and finance professional with experience in more than 80 countries, Mack is internationally-recognized for his work on Public-Private Partnership, Corporate Social Responsibility and economic development issues—including work on Internet policy and its impacts on the spread of technology to Africa, Latin America and other underserved regions.

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Anyone remember the Kenya meeting a few Kevin Murphy  –  Oct 27, 2014 6:44 PM

Anyone remember the Kenya meeting a few years back? A whole lot of Americans and Europeans stayed home due to “terrorism risks”.

I don't think this is ICANN's doing Andrew Allemann  –  Oct 28, 2014 1:36 PM

I don’t know if ICANN is the one considering a move. ICANN is typically the one pushing to go to places that many people are concerned about.

If you read the press about this, as well as ICANN’s statement, it sounds as if the hosts might be asking ICANN to postpone. They might be concerned about Morocco or others enacting travel bans.

In that case, it wouldn’t be an issue of ICANN harming a “gracious host nation”.

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