The DNS Forum’s Journey

How It All Began

Prior to the Registry Operations Workshops created in 2008, the Internet Society (ISOC) had coordinated a number of capacity-building workshops with regional representation. For instance, in 2005, the Internet Society coordinated a ccTLD Domain Name System Workshop in Nairobi. In 2008, a DNSSEC workshop was held in Amsterdam drawing participation from 11 ccTLDs from Africa, Latin America, and Europe

In 2008, ISOC, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the Network Startup Resource Centre partnered to develop the Registry Operations Curriculum that comprised of three-tiered courses, each featuring creative use of hands-on exercises to provide students an operational understanding of the components necessary for secure, stable, and resilient registry operations.

Since then, the three organizations supported the continued development and growth of country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) registries through capacity building and technical support.

By 2011, five Registry Operator’s Workshops had been conducted, in both English and French, across Africa, in partnership with the Africa Top Level Domain organization (AfTLD), the regional association of country code top-level domain registries.

Despite these efforts, the growth of African ccTLDs remained slow compared to other regions. A survey conducted by AFTLD, Asia Pacific Top Level Domain (APTLD), CENTR, and Latin America Top Level Domain (LACTLD) showed that African ccTLDs had the least size and market penetration.

Of the 27 African ccTLDs surveyed in the year, 2012 none had more than 1 million domain names and most ccTLDs had less than 5 domains per 1000 citizens with the exception of South Africa. With respect to DNSSEC, only Namibia (.NA) had signed its zone by 2012.

This state of affairs prompted ISOC and AFTLD to review their approach towards supporting the growth of country code top-level domain registries in the region.

ISOC’s Africa Regional Bureau in partnership with the AFTLD Secretariat developed the Africa country code Top Level Domain and DNSSEC Program which was then presented to AFTLD’s Executive Committee for adoption, and the  General Assembly for ratification in July 2012 at the Africa Top Level Domain Organization ccTLD annual event in Livingstone, Zambia.

The main objectives of the African ccTLD and DNSSEC Program included;

  1. To facilitate implementation of registry automation and improve operational sustainability of the registry services for at least 50% of the ccTLD’s identified through the needs assessment by 2020.
  2. Implement new technologies in African country-code Top-level Domain Registries to ensure:
  1. 90% of all African ccTLDs that have automated registry systems have IPv6 by 2020

50% of all African ccTLDs that have automated registry systems have DNSSEC by 2020.

PROGRAM APPROACH

This ambitious strategy called for a multi-pronged and multifaceted approach that would rely on partnerships to strengthen ccTLDs in Africa with the ultimate goal of improving their zone sizes and market penetration. The Program was also to be informed by a study to provide empirical data needed to develop a road map on the scope of needs and priorities for different ccTLDs in Africa and would rely on collaboration and partnerships to ensure adequate resources were raised to help in the achievement of the program’s objectives.

Further consultations were conducted between AFTLD and the Internet Society which resulted in the following proposed projects for the ccTLD and DNSSEC Program

  1. Establishment of the ccTLD Observatory
  2. Improvement of ccTLD governance and community Engagement
  3. Capacity building
  4. Establishment of a Community of practice that sought to increase the number of domain name registrars on the African continent 
  5. Establishment of a ccTLD awards program

Establishment of the DNS Forum Concept

The first Africa Domain Name System Forum was held prior to ICANN’s 47th public meeting, ICANN47, in Durban, South Africa in July 2013. This marked the beginning of the Africa Domain Name System Forum which was to be replicated in other regions in the world. 

This was a result of the first ICANN Africa Strategy meeting in Mauritius held in September 2012, which sought to establish a regional presence for ICANN in Africa. To enforce this request, the AFTLD Secretariat presented the Africa ccTLD and DNSSEC Program to the Africa Strategy Working Group in seeking partnership and collaboration with ICANN.  The Africa Strategy document can be accessed here.

A follow-up discussion on the same issue took place at the Africa Multistakeholder Works meeting held at the Africa Union premises in Addis Ababa in March 2013 with the support of ICANN, and attended by AFTLD and the Internet Society. The meeting brought together the majority of ccTLD managers and ICANN accredited registrars in Africa. 

During the meeting, a proposal for a formal partnership between AFTLD, the Internet Society, and ICANN was crafted to provide a solid base for the implementation of all facets of the ccTLD and DNSSEC Program. Other partners such as CENTR, LACTLD, and AFNIC the operator of the French ccTLD were also approached to provide additional resources and expertise that would make the project a success. 

And the DNS Forum was created.

Why a DNS Forum?

The Africa Domain Name System Forum was established to build a community of practice that would bring together ccTLD registries, resellers (small and medium enterprises), registrars, and people interested and involved in Domain Name business to share experiences and learn from each other. 

In 2013, there were only five ICANN accredited Registrars on the African continent. There was no official data on the number of National /locally accredited Registrars. Specific objectives of the Africa Domain Name System Forum  included inter alia;

  1. Holding the first Domain Name System Forum for Africa in 2013
  2. Developing the capacity of domain name registrars in Africa by exposing them to global best practices
  3. Increasing the number of ICANN accredited Registrars in Africa
  4. Promoting cross border domain registration opportunities
  5. Growing the number of Nationally accredited Registrars in the Region 

Since 2013, eight editions of the Africa Domain Name System Forum have been held. The meetings have brought together more than 2000 people interested and involved in the Domain Name System in Africa and around the world. Subsequent DNS Forums were hosted by Nigeria (2014), Kenya (2015), Morocco (2016), Tanzania (2017), Benin (2018), and Botswana (2019). With the pandemic, the African DNS Forum 2020 was held virtually in 2020.

Where we are today

The Africa Domain Name System Forum has achieved tremendous success considering the objectives that were set when the African ccTLD and DNSSEC Program was developed. According to a recent desk survey conducted by the Africa Top Level Domains Organization Secretariat:

  • More than 95 % of African ccTLDs have an automated registry system that can support IPv6 and DNSSEC. 
  • 90 % have automated the domain registration processes which is a testament to the impact of the Africa Domain Name System Forum. 
  • Over 90 percent of African ccTLDs are in the process of assisting their registrars and resellers to develop capacities and competencies for connecting automatically to their registry systems.
  • The number of ICANN accredited registrars rose from the initial 5 in 2012 to 12 in 2021.
  • The Africa Registrars Association, based in Dakar, Senegal, was registered in 2019.

African countries are also being encouraged to form Domain Registrar Associations whose purpose is to advocate for a better business environment for domain registrars and resellers. The number of resellers has increased tremendously on the African continent. A number of Registrars have participated in exchange programs and workshops facilitated by the ICANN Global Stakeholder engagement team in partnership with AFTLD, AFRINIC, and AFILIAS  which has translated into improved quality of service to the African Community.  The details can be obtained in this report. Additionally, it is important to note that the number of signed zone files from Africa has increased thanks to the deployment of DNSSEC. This was mostly facilitated by capacity development workshops organized by ICANN. 

The Africa Domain Name System Forum has also encouraged peer support and exchange programs among ccTLD managers in Africa which has resulted in the African Region being the fastest-growing region in zone size according to a study conducted by AFNIC, the French ccTLD in 2019. 

As a result of the deliberations, one of the African Registrars is in the process of developing a Registry System for African ccTLD and has already developed a payment gateway for use by African Registrars and resellers. An example of a continental gateway can be found on this link.

The Future

Africa remains virgin territory, in so far as internet adoption and penetration is concerned. The continent has slightly over 450 million Internet users and less than 2 million domain names according to a study conducted by ICANN. The Africa domain name market study can be accessed here.

Considering the role of the domain name system, there is a need to bring other actors, beyond the technical community, to the table to help articulate the social and economic impact of the Domain Name Industry to the African Community. Engagement with other actors such as the African Union, the African Banking Community, and the African Research Community is essential in moving the industry forward, as they would provide the support and resources needed to achieve a strengthened DNS industry in Africa which is the key objective of the Africa DNS Forum.