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Out of .Africa - Process Failures Don’t Change the Facts

I’ve heard a lot of discussion of the .africa controversy of late—from conspiracy theories to questions about staff competence to concerns about the role of the GAC. And it’s hard not to find faults galore in the way this process and the IRP reporting has played out. But before we get too lost in the weeds of procedure or the future of ICANN, lets not lose track of what this debate was first and still is fundamentally about: a string.

Despite all the noise around the process, the real issue was and remains simple: does any applicant have the requisite geographical support to get delegation? Because if they do, then by definition and in keeping with ICANN policy, no other applicant should qualify to run .africa. End of controversy. End of discussion. Irrespective of anything we may think about the way this has gone down, whether we think ICANN needs more accountability (and I do) or not.

And in this case the answer is clear: the ZACR bid has the required support—well over the 60% of nations required have endorsed their bid to run .africa. DCA’s bid does not.

There’s no question the process has been flawed and there have been procedural errors. DCA may have been treated unfairly as some have commented. The GAC may have overreached or been vague in its advice to the Board. Certainly the whole affair has hurt the reputation of ICANN and its relations with Africa. Still, in my mind the biggest procedural error lies in ICANN’s simple inability to follow its own policy. There is a process for evaluating the basic qualification—the geographic panel—and this should have disqualified DCA long ago.

Looking back, the entire controversy has been a completely avoidable distraction—one that has provided no value for ICANN or for the African internet community. The drama has gone on too long and cost the applicants, ICANN and the community a lot in time, credibility and money. It has also deprived the continent of a potentially valuable resource. Having just returned from speaking at DNS Africa in Nairobi, I can confirm that there is interest in .africa—from audiences across the continent and companies like ours that work extensively with Africa.

Further fuming about ICANN accountability may well be warranted, but that doesn’t change the central fact in this controversy. Unless ICANN rejects the letters of support for the ZACR bid from literally dozens of African nations, there can be no issue about who should run .africa. Its time to move on.

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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Untrue.ICANN to its credit, swiftly took its John Laprise  –  Jul 25, 2015 8:08 PM


ICANN to its credit, swiftly took its own advice and is redoing the bidding process. While the outcome you identify is likely, I am content to await and the results of the process.

Furthermore, I strongly disagree with the sentiment that it’s time to move on. The report essentially found that the actual process should be redone solely because of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the ICANN-GAC interaction while reserving judgement on ICANN’s internal policy process adherence. The IANA transition processes currently being drafted rely upon ICANN following its own processes. This case provides accusations that ICANN failed to do this but does not assess their credibility. This is problematic.

Process failures *are* the facts in this case Kieren McCarthy  –  Jul 26, 2015 2:45 PM

I agree with all of your main points, Andrew, but don’t see how they lead to your conclusion.

> in my mind the biggest procedural error lies in ICANN’s simple inability to follow its own policy

I agree and this is exactly why “moving on” is the wrong thing to do.

For as long as I can recall, the ICANN community has complained that ICANN’s staff and Board are a law unto themselves. And the most vociferous complaints have concerned times when they have not followed or have skewed the process that the community spent significant time and energy putting in place.

In this .Africa case, we have two very big issues and concerns in terms of process:

1. The staff and the Board did not follow the process. In fact, we now know that they repeatedly intervened in favor of the ZACR bid and against the DCA bid. In effect, ICANN decide what the end result should be and then, rather than follow its processes neutrally to arrive at that conclusion, bent the process to arrive at *its* conclusion.

And don’t forget that ICANN has actually signed a contract with ZACR and that it was the independent panel that actively intervened to tell ICANN not to add ‘.africa’ to the root.

2. ICANN’s Board broke its own bylaws. And not obscure bylaws either but ones that get to the heart of what ICANN is supposed to be. An appeal was dismissed twice out of hand. ICANN had already made its decision (ZACR good; DCA bad) and so it didn’t feel the need to have to consider it again at all. As we now know, it was beyond wrong: it was bordering on incompetent.

This is why it is again a mistake to suggest we move on. We had an independent group of three judges look at how ICANN functions and for the third time in a row, note how very disappointed they were. The ICANN we have is *not* the ICANN that we tell ourselves we have. That is important not to lose sight of.

And just to make that point abundantly clear is what is probably the worst part of this whole .Africa IRP saga: the fact that faced with having its own failings made public, ICANN’s immediate reaction was to cover it up.

It actually redacted the final report of its own final accountability process. Think about that for a second.

And when it was called out on that, it then produced a very carefully written explanation that appeared to show it was simply following process. But, again, that wasn’t true. ICANN staff again played loose and fast with process to suit its own ends. They was no justification for redacting the information but ICANN did it anyway. Because there is no real accountability.

What this case shows definitively, after years of complaints without proof, is that ICANN staff and Board not only bend processes to achieve whatever their ends are but that they know they shouldn’t be doing so. Why else redact the information and then lie about it?

It’s ok for individuals on the sidelines to say “well ZACR should win” but it is not ok for the organization that we entrust to make these decisions to do the same. ICANN is supposed to be much more professional than that. And until examples like this one are used to force ICANN to change its behavior, it will never be the organization that it tells itself it is and that we kid ourselves it is.

We can be tough and constructive -- without holding .Africa hostage Andrew Mack  –  Jul 27, 2015 2:29 PM

John and Kieren,

Thank you both for your responses—and please know I do agree with much of what you say.  Clearly a lot of significant errors have been committed by staff, community and others.  And to be clear, I don’t think we should “move on” from the lessons.  Just don’t think holding .Africa hostage for another x number of months is the best way to learn from – and act on – the points you’re bringing up.

Despite the many issues around this debacle, there are still only 3 possible outcomes as you both know: DCA gets .Africa; ZACR gets it; or nobody does.  DCA doesn’t have the geo support.  ZACR does.  Sadly, right now, not delegating is effectively where we are.  And that benefits no one, least of all users. 

You are both correct: “moving on” in this one narrow area won’t address the many failures we’ve seen as part of the process.  It won’t address the need for more accountability and the importance of clarifying roles across the board.  And to be clear, I’m not saying we should “move on” from the lessons.  I too am also very concerned with the way the communications have been handled.  Cover-ups strike me as the exact opposite of the direction we should be going.  But fixing the process broadly and delegating this one string are not the same issue.

In the end, making an example of ZACR for failings of other parts of the community won’t benefit anyone (but the lawyers, they always get paid).  Another 3-12 months of evaluation won’t change the outcome, which will still need to be based on geography (and ZACR will still win). 

On the other hand, for as long as the re-evaluation goes on, the African internet users who want .Africa – a group that we as a community often talk about wanting to support – they will continue to be disadvantaged. 

There’s no reason we can’t be tough but constructive.  Nearly all of the governments in Africa – and that’s a lot – have come out in support of the ZACR bid.  Respect their wishes and use the geo test to declare a winner on that basis.  At the same time, let’s do a useful post-mortem and make changes accordingly, setting a clear timeline for new policies to address or clarify where things have gone wrong. 

You are right, the issue is much bigger than .Africa.  There’s a lot to fix.  However, holding .Africa hostage in penance for our broader community failures is not the best approach – for ICANN or for the African internet community.

There's always a chance that after DCA Kevin Murphy  –  Jul 27, 2015 3:32 PM

There's always a chance that after DCA loses its Initial Evaluation, it will file a Reconsideration Request (another couple months of delay) then another IRP (another year or two of delay), and then, if it loses, another RR on the outcome of the IRP. Given DCA's track record on this, I think it's a distinct possibility.

Hi Andrew,I appreciate your intervention on behalf John Laprise  –  Jul 27, 2015 3:16 PM

Hi Andrew,

I appreciate your intervention on behalf of ZACR but no one is holding it hostage or seeking to. ICANN is resolving the issue with all deliberate speed through its defined processes.

Our (if I may speak for Kieran) issue is that ICANN has cast doubt upon its ability to follow its own processes, threatening to undermine all of its decision making processes.

Quite honestly, I don’t care about the outcome insofar as who receives the .Africa. It’s a competitive bid and will resolve like any other (hopefully). I and most of the Internet community do care very deeply about ICANN’s capacity to follow its own policy as that directly bears upon ICANN’s capacity to insure the safety, security, and administrative functionality of the Internet.

A bureaucracy which breaks its own rules is not a bureaucracy.

The delays come as a result of ICANN looking out for itself rather than the applicants Kieren McCarthy  –  Jul 27, 2015 6:39 PM

Thanks for the response, Andrew.

So broadly I agree with you. Although I think you may be overdoing the importance of the ‘.africa’ TLD: I don’t see it having any real impact on the lives of people living in Africa for a long time. Not getting a domain name is the very least of the internet issues that Africans face.

I would argue that the delays in the delegation of .africa are precisely because of ICANN’s problems and failings. If ICANN had stuck with its processes and behaved fairly and neutrally in all likelihood the TLD would have existed for some time now.

What the ICANN Board has decided to do in response to the IRP report looks rushed to me and is more concerned with how to protect the ICANN Board and staff than in resolving the issue properly and professionally. And it will likely lead to more delays.

Even after it had been heavily criticized for its own failings, the Board and staff just can’t bring themselves to not be in full control of the process (which is what got them there in the first place).

So they are continuing on using the same flawed processes and approach and hope the result is better this time. In fact, in its recent announcements you can almost hear ICANN saying: “Fine, we’ll re-evaluate it but we are still going to end up with the *right* result.”

ICANN simply can’t abide the idea of admitting it got it wrong. So they are going to force a process that enables the corporation to save face. When the issue is finally resolved, I expect to see lots of back-slapping about how “this shows our accountability systems work” and pushing back yet again on calls for real accountability.

An organization that was thinking clearly about its role, rather than about itself, would behave quite differently.

First, I agree with you Andrew, the focus should be on resolving the issue quickly and clearly. And to do that, ICANN should separate itself from the decision and give as much power as possible to independent experts and ask them to operate openly and transparently.

InterConnect could easily be tasked with recommending the fairest and most efficient path forward to resolve the issue and then report back publicly to the internet community (i.e. not directly to ICANN staff). Then ICANN just needs to follow what its own experts tell it.

Then ICANN should take the issues of accountability that have emerged and open a review into what went wrong, why and what needs to be done to fix it. And promise a new era of openness by opening up all the relevant documents. A sea-change in how we do things. That means that the issue of the .africa TLD itself gets separated from the process problems and those problems can then be tackled in the right timeframe.

I don’t expect to see ICANN do either. And it for that reason that I think it is imperative to keep this particular example alive in people’s minds rather than wish it away. It will serve as a true measure of who ICANN is.

Currently, that is more of an embarrassed teenager than an international organization to be trusted with the internet’s domain name system.

ICANN needs to resolve the issue quickly.ICANN Kevin Murphy  –  Jul 27, 2015 7:05 PM

ICANN needs to resolve the issue quickly. ICANN rushed its response. ICANN needs act neutrally and fairly in this case. ICANN needs to ask InterConnect to provide a special recommendation to the internet community in this case. That about right?

Interconnect is already compromised for collaborating with ICANN Martin Otsieno  –  Jul 29, 2015 10:43 AM

This Geographic panel evaluation should have been done by an independent reviewer and professional firm, a respectable audit firm like E&Y;, etc. Interconnect is already compromised for collaborating with ICANN, be surprised if they are not sued by DCA. Plus there is nothing in the process to give special assessment to interconnect their job is to simply say pass or fail.

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