ICANN Pledges Major Expansion in Africa as IT Grows on Continent

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2013-03-13

ICANN Pledges Major Expansion in Africa as IT Grows on Continent

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans a broad expansion into Africa to tap into the burgeoning Internet usage on the continent, particularly mobile Internet usage.

The president and CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehade, said he is moving ahead immediately with plans to have six new ICANN representatives on the African continent.

"ICANN used to say if you want to participate in Internet governance, come to ICANN," Chehade said in a statement. "We've changed that—now ICANN is coming to the stakeholders. We’re not waiting for you to come. We're coming to you."

Chehade made his comments during the Africa Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The two-day meeting ended March 8 after drawing Internet leaders from across the continent.

"We will have ICANN staff, at least one, in each of the six6 regions of Africa: North, South, East, West, Central and the Indian Ocean," Chehade said. "I want African on-ramps into the ICANN structures. I will give you the on-ramps, but you need to climb them."

The ICANN leader also said he would like to see a dramatic increase in the number of accredited domain name registrars on the African continent. Currently, only five accredited registrars exist in Africa among more than 1,000 worldwide, but Chehade said he wants to see that number increase fivefold in less than two years. 

"This is about us moving the needle forward," he said. "Africa will not wait."

The event in Addis Ababa was attended by more than 200 people, including ministers and other government representatives, leaders from the African business community, civil society and from ICANN structures in Africa—the African Top Level Domain (AfTLD) and the African Regional At-Large Organization (AFRALO).

During the event, the implementation of an African Strategy for better engagement in Africa was discussed in detail. Representatives from the African community prepared the strategy last summer and announced it during the ICANN meeting in Toronto in October. Fadi Chehade reiterated ICANN's commitment to help implement the three-year strategy in coordination with our global and regional partners in Africa.

One major IT services provider, IBM, has been keeping a watchful eye on Africa and has been investing heavily on the continent. Recently, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said IBM views Africa as a lucrative market.

IBM has been increasing its investment in Africa over the years. Last year, the company opened a research center in Nairobi, Kenya. "Originally the way research worked at IBM is we'd open up next to a very prestigious university," Rometty said. "But back to big data, you have to open up a research center in the middle of a problem. That's what took us to Nairobi."

Rometty also noted that Africa is not one cohesive continent but 54 separate nations, each with different political climates that may not be so business-friendly. "We're in 24 [African] countries today," she said. "There is great opportunity there. We believe strongly that this is the time."

ICANN Pledges Major Expansion in Africa as IT Grows on Continent

IBM has been ramping up its profile on the continent as part of its focus on emerging markets. The expansion program is part of a major business plan to increase IBM's presence in growth markets and support global strategy. The company sees the potential of research and smarter systems in transforming business, government and society across the continent.

Last month, IBM announced that MoDe was named the IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, MoDe provides instant nano-credit for prepaid mobile phone users across the African continent.

Nearly 80 percent of mobile phone users in growth markets do not have access to traditional banking loans and credit. MoDe's innovative payment services ensure that people have access to mobile airtime when needed, while helping telecommunications companies increase efficiency and build brand loyalty.

"Being named the IBM Global Entrepreneur of the Year is a tremendous honor and will accelerate our ability to create new markets," said Julian Kyula, CEO and co-founder of MoDe. "The access to clients and potential investors that we have had through the SmartCamp program would have taken our company 10 years to achieve on our own, with IBM it took less than six months.”

IBM SmartCamps connect startups with seasoned and successful venture capitalists, investors and innovative business leaders, giving them the tools and insight needed to excel in their often nascent markets. Past participants have partnered with IBM to deliver new services to clients and have expanded into new markets. In addition, past participants have gone on to generate more than $90 million in investments from the venture community.

"Every day we are working with startups around the world to grow markets in big data, cloud and mobile computing," said Jim Corgel, general manager of IBM's Entrepreneur Programs. "We are thrilled to expand our relationship with MoDe as we bring new mobile solutions to our clients around the world."

In 2011, IBM announced a long-term agreement working with mobile-phone company Bharti Airtel in Africa. Bharti Airtel and IBM jointly announced a 10-year agreement to provide comprehensive IT services to Airtel's employees across 16 African countries. In terms of the agreement, IBM is providing a standard operating environment, "help desk" and "desk side" support to enhance employee efficiency and convenience. The announcement builds on a strategic partnership the companies signed in late 2010 to manage the computing technology and services to power Airtel’s mobile communications network spanning 16 African countries.

At the time of the signing of the agreement in July 2011, IBM said it would provide comprehensive end user services to Airtel employees across Africa, in French and English. The consolidation of Airtel's help desks is expected to bring greater cost savings and efficiencies by streamlining the processes of addressing IT operational issues. It will also include an enhanced information enterprise security that further strengthens Airtel’s commitment to customer data privacy. IBM also is responsible for the implementation and maintenance of a standard operating environment, using state-of-the-art platforms, tools and management processes.

Manoj Kohli, CEO of Bharti Airtel, in a statement, said, "This agreement enables us to provide the best IT capabilities to our employees with a focus of making innovative mobile solutions available across Africa. IBM will introduce best practices based on their global experience in various sectors. This will help us to focus on delivering innovative products and services, and providing a better customer experience."

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