The world turned to Africa on July 27, 2021 to deliberate on topical issues across the evolution of the DNS ecosystem in the region, national and regional DNS Forum initiatives, emerging technical issues, financing and insurance in the DNS business, and compliance in the domain name industry.
It was a time to embrace the challenges in the Domain Name Industry in Africa and proffer solutions towards growing a competitive rate, ensuring that the continent is on par with the rest of the world. It was an opportunity to discuss business, technical, and policy aspects of the industry. It created a platform to research and compare new approaches to establish and expand online presence, as well as network with stakeholders and industry experts.
DNS Africa Correspondent, Adebunmi Akinbo was able to interview the ICANN Vice-President, Pierre Dandjinou in understanding ICANN’s role in shaping the future of the internet.
Sagbo Pierre Dandjinou is the Vice-President, Stakeholder Engagement for Africa. He coordinates implementation of ICANN’s strategic plan for Africa and is responsible for Outreach, Support and Engagement with all Stakeholders, including Governments, Civil Society and Private Sector in the Africa region.
Find below the transcript of the interview.
1. Who is the ICANN Vice President for Africa?
I’m Pierre Dandjinou, Vice President for Stakeholder Engagement in Africa, coordinating ICANN’s engagement efforts across the continent. I’m also supervising ICANN’s Africa strategy. In Africa, we also have four staff members working on ICANN’s stakeholder engagement and technical engagement efforts.
2. Is the DNS in Africa Secured and Stable?
That is a very good question. ICANN has shepherded the global Internet via increased security of the root through the Root Key Signing Key (KSK) Rollover in 2018. This was essential to ensuring Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) and validating DNS resolvers so that they continue to function following the rollover. However, we still have work to do on increasing the adoption of DNSSEC in Africa, which is really a simple security step business owners can take to protect their website and their consumers against cyberattacks. So, for instance, in order to achieve a secure functioning of ccTLDs such as .ng, you should apply for DNSSEC.
The DNSSEC Roadshow we launched in 2013 was important in raising awareness and exposing ccTLD managers in several countries in Africa, to the need for DNSSEC adoption.
Out of it though, only 22 African countries have signed their zone file out of the 54. In fact, we are going to be re-launching the DNSSEC Roadshow soon!
3. How unified is the African Internet Community?
There is definitely a want for more unity, but perhaps a lack of a common strategy, which is needed for the future of a digital Africa. For instance, we have the regional Internet Institutions, known as Af* and platforms such as the Africa DNS Forum (AFDNSF), and the Africa Internet summit (AIS) which bring the regional Internet community together. However, in terms of unity and collaboration, there is a need for renewed effort, and new ways of cooperating and sharing best practices among all relevant stakeholders in order to build a collective, workable approach as we look at the evolution of the Internet in Africa. For example, one can see that African ccTLDs need to develop a common strategy to share their experience, share appropriate tools and harmonize data handling and data protection regionally, instead of working on their own.
This collaboration’s importance cannot be underestimated.
4. Over the years, countries in Registries in Africa have benefitted from trainings on DNSSEC implementation. What’s the main challenge going green?
The main challenge we still see is a lack of competencies of most registries, namely in terms of having the appropriate staff dedicated to DNSSEC and other measurement tools. Working technically to set up DNSSEC infrastructures and secure them seems to be a big challenge which can be overcome by better organization on the registry and operator levels. Perhaps the best way is to work through Internet Service Providers and that’s why we’re working holistically. We may also need to provide automated procedures so that zone file signing and validation become less complicated. We are considering these different aspects in our new version of DNSSEC Roadshow.
5. Encryption is a key factor to securing payment gateways. Concerning Conversions, can Blockchain become a solution or a menace to Africa? Survival of ccTLDs won’t be on their own resources, instead of competing it’s better to complement each other. An agreement has been signed between Nigeria-Kenya. Can blockchain become a solution to Africa?
Blockchain can be quite neutral and secure. But it is still in development. Today, we need to tackle the issues and challenges we are facing in the region, one of which, is how to better work together strategically.
At present, we have systems that allow you to pay through your mobile, which is effectively, working through a network in Africa. This is a kind of innovation that Africa can benefit from because it means that all African countries are able to transfer data between themselves, which has an important potential for African ccTLDs development. Payment system is key. So, let’s have this system set up first. Blockchain is fine, but there are some basic issues to be solved, before embarking on an advanced technology. Let the African ccTLDs automate their system first. Some of them are still managing ccTLDs manually, including payment systems
6. What do stakeholders across Africa need to do foster a working relationship with ICANN for Africa? Can newcomers bridge the gap? Can ICANN be more present in Africa?
We facilitate and coordinate the stakeholder participation in a democratic and inclusive way. There are different categories such as supporting organizations or advisory committees in which stakeholders could be involved. The issue we are facing is the ability of the Internet community to participate and establish multistakeholder model in African environment. ICANN can only support and facilitate the process. Our regional institutions need to change the gear and motivate African countries to participate. We need to build real momentum around the stakeholder participation but also for Internet usage. At the same time, we are working on universal acceptance and IDNs (Internationalized Domain Names) which allows different scripts in African languages to be used in domain names and email addresses.
7. Is COVID-19 Impact an accelerator to evolving solution for Africa?
COVID-19 has brought in a new picture for all. Connectivity became a big issue for everyone. Given that a lot of businesses moved online, remote work has become widespread. As far as ICANN is concerned, this has increased the importance of DNS security. ICANN works with global stakeholders to make sure that Internet works for everyone. An increasing number of people had to go innovative and switch their meetings online. Today, people are also discussing the possibility to go hybrid. Issues such as data protection or content management have become more important than ever. At the same time, increasing use of Internet during COVID also created opportunities for Africa and the continent continue to witness many innovative ideas coming to life.
8. What’s ICANN’s role to ensuring that the rural areas (unconnected) and urban areas (underserved) get attention? How can such communities benefit from Digital Divide Intervention? Is collaboration limited only for Business without Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)? Is it possible to strengthen a sense of community?
Our mission is to technically ensure a stable, secure, and unified global Internet. That is a small, but very important part of enabling inclusive and sustainable growth, as the Internet is the mother infrastructure of the other applications on top of it. To do this, collaboration is crucial. We want to be able to work with international institutions such as ITU or World Bank, and regional organizations such as the economic commissions and Smart Africa, to bring the focus to the African community networks so that the Internet could yield a local impact. It is imperative that we work together to address the technical challenges we face here in Africa, more efficiently and effectively.
Our readers and contributors can access the ICANN Africa Regional Plan for Fiscal Years 2021-2025 here.
DNS Africa looks forward to working with ICANN and Stakeholders to increase the impact in Africa through collaboration and partnership in shaping the future of the internet.