ICANN launches initiative to advance Africa’s digital transformation

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), launched the Coalition for Digital Africa, an initiative aimed at expanding  internet access in Africa. Conceived by ICANN, the Coalition is an alliance of like-minded organizations committed to building a robust and secure internet infrastructure to bring more Africans online.

Home to the youngest population on the planet, 70 percent of whom are under age 30, Africa has one of the fastest-growing internet penetration rates in the world. Internet connectivity is growing by leaps and bounds – from 1.2 percent in 2000 to 43 percent in 2021 – driven by a digitally savvy, young, and educated urban workforce for whom adopting and using online services is second nature.

Gӧran Marby, President and CEO of ICANN said, ”The Coalition for Digital Africa provides an opportunity for new ways of cooperating and collaborating among diverse stakeholders. Though the Coalition was initiated by ICANN, its success is dependent on synergistic work with other organizations – be they local, regional, or international – who are united in their aim to enhance Africa’s internet infrastructure, increase the rate of Internet access, bolster Internet security, and raise the level of participation from Africa in multistakeholder policymaking development.”

The Coalition will further promote innovation aimed at building technical capacity and encourage entrepreneurialism by enabling people to access the internet using their own languages and scripts. The Coalition has already rolled out activities in pursuit of its goals.

To make the Domain Name System (DNS) infrastructure in Africa more robust so that it can cater to the rapid growth, the Coalition announced the installation of an ICANN Managed Root Server (IMRS) cluster in Kenya last month. Another cluster is planned for a second location in Africa next year. These clusters enable regional internet queries to be answered within the region, rather than being dependent on networks and servers in other parts of the world. The IMRS clusters will also reduce the impact of potential cyberattacks in Africa.

John Omo, the Secretary General of African Telecommunications Union said, ”The launch of the Coalition brings us one step closer to strengthening the internet infrastructure in Africa. The Coalition provides an important vehicle to enable a better protected DNS and more secure internet infrastructure in Africa. The establishment of the Coalition will play the important role of enhancing confidence in many online systems that are now being mainstreamed, even as the continent looks forward to growing internet penetration in Africa from the current 43% to globally competitive levels.”

The Coalition’s focus is on creating meaningful connectivity throughout Africa. The Coalition will begin by working to better adapt the internet in Africa to enable digital inclusivity and creating opportunities to spur the growth of local content and businesses. Key to that effort is Universal Acceptance, or UA, which ensures that all valid domain names and email addresses, regardless of length or script, can be used by all internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems. With UA, people who are already connected, and those who will be connected in the future, can communicate over the internet and access local content in their preferred languages and scripts.

One way the Coalition will tackle this is through a project led by the Association of African Universities aimed at making email and other systems within higher education UA-ready. This is an essential step toward ensuring an internet that is both useful and empowering for all people.

Olusola Bandele Oyewole, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities said, ”This is an important and welcome initiative for Africa. Improving the technical capacity of higher education institutions across the continent is imperative for a digital Africa. We are happy to take part in this journey to give African internet users the opportunity to be part of a truly global, inclusive, and multilingual internet.”

The Coalition for Digital Africa comprises governments, regional and international organizations, and the local internet community. Inaugural partners of the Coalition also include the African Information Network Centre, AfRegistrar Association, Africa Top Level Domain, Africa Telecommunications Union, Association African Universities, Association Française pour le Nommage Internet en Coopération, International Telecommunication Union-Development Sector, and Network Startup Resource Center.

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Reginah Wamboi

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