ICANN Pledges Major Expansion in Africa as IT Grows on Continent

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) plans to expand into Africa as Internet use and IT investment on the continent continues to grow.

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."