[AfrICANN-discuss] Breaking News: DotConnectAfrica Trust WinsResounding Victory against ICANN in IRP Accountability

Mwendwa Kivuva Kivuva at transworldafrica.com
Fri Jul 17 15:40:49 UTC 2015

Interesting read

*Unredacted: ICANN's hidden role in fierce battle over .Africa rights*

*Damning review was censored – but we've seen the full report*

15 Jul 2015 at 14:02, Kieren McCarthy

Domain-name overseer ICANN's pivotal role in a controversial fight over
.africa is today revealed in full for the first time.

An independent review
<https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/dca-v-icann-2013-12-11-en> into the
.africa saga, which was two years in the making, concluded that ICANN had
broken its own bylaws: the organization had failed to properly investigate
claims made by one of the two applicants battling for the rights to own the
top-level domain.

But before the 63-page final report [PDF
was published last week, repeated references to ICANN's own involvement in
favor of one of the applicants were systematically removed by the
organization itself.

The report contains no less than 39 redactions, many pulling out entire
paragraphs of text. *The Register* has obtained a non-redacted version of
the report [PDF <https://regmedia.co.uk/2015/07/16/icann-dca-irp-final.pdf>],
and we can say that most of those redactions concern the fact that ICANN's
head of operations, Dai-Trang Nguyen, drafted a letter that was then used
by ICANN to advance a competing .africa bid.

There were two applications for .africa. The first came from
DotConnectAfrica (DCA), which originally received support from the African
Union Commission (AUC), Africa's equivalent of the European Commission.

Subsequently, however, the AUC decided it wanted to be in control of the
.africa internet space, and so rescinded its support for DCA and ran its
own process to find a company to run the top-level domain. DCA refused to
participate in that process, and applied through ICANN's processes for the
rights to the dot-word itself. As a result, it ended up in conflict with
the company that the AUC eventually chose: South Africa's ZACR.

In an effort to push its choice, and eliminate the DCA bid from ICANN's
process, the AUC then carried out an extensive lobbying campaign, including
lodging formal objections to the DCA bid. In response to that campaign,
ICANN rejected DCA's application. And DCA appealed the decision.

More than two years later, an independent review of ICANN's rejection
decision found that ICANN did not properly investigate DCA's claims and so
had acted unfairly.

However, what the report also revealed – and which ICANN then removed
before publishing – was that ICANN's staff had assisted the AUC and its
competing bid.

*Questions raised*

An early letter to ICANN from the African Union Commission (AUC) in support
of its own candidate to run dot-africa did not fulfill ICANN's criteria,
was not in the correct format, and sparked a "clarifying question" from the
third party that ICANN tasked with checking that the bid had the requisite

In response, the AUC privately asked ICANN staff for help, and no less than
ICANN's head of operations obliged, drafting a new letter that,
unsurprisingly, fulfilled all the necessary criteria.

That ICANN-drafted letter, duly signed by the AUC, was then used as the key
piece of evidence to show that ZACR had sufficient support for its bid, and
just a week later ICANN signed a contract with ZACR to run .africa.

Essentially, ICANN drafted a letter in support of ZACR, gave it to the AUC,
and the AUC submitted the letter back to ICANN as evidence that ZACR should
run dot-africa.

*Not exactly Switzerland*

This process in which ICANN engineered approval of a particular
application, and so undermined its own requirement to act "neutrally and
objectively with integrity and fairness," was repeatedly referenced in the
independent report.

In one redacted section, ICANN admits it wrote the letter, but argued that
it "did not violate any policy in drafting a template letter at the AUC
request." Later on it said that there was "absolutely nothing wrong with
ICANN staff assisting the AUC."

However, ICANN's failure to act neutrally may put the entire ZACR
application at risk.

ICANN also redacted mention of a number of other related accusations: for
example, ICANN allegedly told InterConnect – which was, along with other
consultants, scrutinizing dot-word applications – to take the ICANN-drafted
AUC letter as evidence that all African governments fully supported ZACR
for the dot-africa job.

If true, it is another clear violation of the organization's neutrality.

*Broader problems*

While the redactions made by ICANN have highlighted its own culpability,
the fact that ICANN staff intervened in favor of one applicant forms just
one part of the reasoning in the decision against ICANN by the independent
review panel.

The report spends most of its time digging into the rejection of the DCA
bid by ICANN, which sparked the review in the first place.

Overall, the panel found that since DCA "was never given any notice or an
opportunity... to make its position known or defend its own interests," and
that "both the actions and inactions of the Board with respect to the
application of DCA Trust relating to the .AFRICA gTLD were not procedures
designed to insure the fairness required... and are therefore inconsistent
with the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of ICANN."

DCA's claim to have been unfairly treated was rejected repeatedly by ICANN
– first by the ICANN's Board Governance Committee and then by its New gTLD
Program Committee (NGPC), which feature many of the same members.

In both cases, the board failed to dig into DCA's claims. It did not, for
example, ask ICANN's head of operations about the support letter drafted
for the AUC, nor did it ask ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)
why it had formally opposed DCA's bid.

During the course of the independent review, ICANN staff also tried
repeatedly to limit what the panel was allowed to review or do, even going
so far as to try toprevent its key witnesses from being questioned
claiming the panel did not have the right to do so.

In subsequent questioning with the chairwoman of the GAC, Heather Dryden,
the review panelists were amazed to discover that the GAC did not provide
any rationale for its decision to reject the DCA bid, even though it
explicitly listed the three criteria that it would need to meet to justify
such a rejection.

And despite the fact that the decision was formally questioned through its
own appeal processes, ICANN's board did not ask the GAC for a rationale
either: it simply took its statement at face value and rejected the bid.

*Other accusations*

Within the report are a wealth of other accusations from DCA over collusion
between ICANN's staff and AUC representatives. Since the panel's overall
decision was that ICANN must reevaluate DCA's bid, it steers clear of
making any judgment about those accusations ("the panel does not find it
necessary to determine who was right, to what extent and for what reasons").

However, while DCA has been widely mocked within the DNS industry – one
industry blogger even running the headline "DotConnectAfrica still barking
mad after IRP win" after the review found in DCA's favor – the fact remains
that ICANN has redacted the formal report of an independent panel, and many
questions remain unanswered.

When asked about the redactions, ICANN's vice president of global
communications Duncan Burns said:

> Redacted portions are those that reference the info provided during the
proceeding that was marked as confidential by one of the parties. The
parties have an obligation to maintain that confidentiality. [They] are
consistent with the redactions found in the parties' briefs that are posted
on the website.

 This saga is just one more sign that ICANN, as a body, continues to make a
mockery of efforts to introduce accountability into its decision-making. ®
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