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ICANN’s stronger commitment to Africa’s ccTLD and Internationalised Domain Names

ICANN’s Expanding Engagement

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) continues its commitment to regional efforts and engagements. Having signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with EURid in promoting Internationalised Domain Names (IDN) and Universal Acceptance, ICANN announced its latest pledge and commitment to African Internet Registries in June 2022. According to its official press release, ICANN will provide training and tools for ten African country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registries. The countries are Niger, Togo, Benin, the Republic of Congo, Comoros, Madagascar, Angola, Liberia, Zimbabwe, and the Gambia.

ICANN intends to engage with its African counterparts on specialized training covering topics from domain name system security to Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) and Universal Acceptance (UA). The ICANN President and CEO, Goran Marby, highlighted the importance of the commitment to African countries' sustainable digital national economy as ccTLDs are an integral part of the internet infrastructure. This is also the second initiative ICANN has committed to the internet development in Africa as the organization added two ICANN-operated and managed clusters of root servers in February 2022.

Opportunities for Internationalised Domain Names in Africa

This latest ICANN commitment provides new opportunities for African internet stakeholders to promote and achieve Universal Acceptance. Given the diversity of languages and scripts in Africa, it poses an inevitable challenge for internet penetration and widens the digital divide on the continent. According to International Finance Corporation (IFC) World Bank Group, only 22% of the continent has internet access. While there are other contributing factors to this figure, the accessibility of language and script on the internet is an essential factor to take into consideration.

The latest ICANN commitment should be a catalyst for identifying and gathering data on linguistic challenges on the internet, especially for the ten countries involved. This is a foundational step as our research shows the limit of internationalised domain names (IDN) data in the African continent. By identifying linguistic problems and gathering data, African countries will be able to step further in finding solutions to linguistic challenges on the internet.

It also provides a promising economic opportunity for African countries as the internationalised domain names (IDN) can stimulate the inclusion of local small-medium enterprises at the grassroots level in the digital economy. Localised content with local languages and scripts will connect a broader population to an engaging digital ecosystem that consequently leads to economic benefits. This has been the case in other Global South countries such as Vietnam and Thailand.

More than economic calculations, the IDN and Universal Acceptance training will have potential socio-cultural effects. In particular, IDN and UA training will provide a chance to include local African languages and scripts on the internet, especially the indigenous language. The training will equip the ten African countries' technical experts, academia, and policymakers on how to promote multilingualism on the internet not only in the technical aspect but also in policy and academic dimensions.

Further Regional and Local Engagement

The latest ICANN commitment should be appreciated as this year ICANN extensively expands its regional and local engagement through various initiatives. The inclusion of Internationalised Domain Names and Universal Acceptance on ICANN regional and local engagements sends a positive message to broader internet stakeholders that the problem of linguistic diversity on the internet necessitates partnership, collaboration and cooperation. ICANN’s engagement approach is also credited due to its empowering character: focusing on training and equal partnership.

This should prompt further engagements to specifically address IDN and UA not only as a part of broader initiatives but as the main agenda in itself in the future. A global-wide event on IDN and UA is needed to re-energise the awareness of the topic for a broader audience. This will reconnect global stakeholders and UA enthusiasts to share experiences and provide avenues for further collaboration among them.

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