.AFRICA : exclusive interview with its CEO Lucky Masilela

Few days after the start of the general availability and the success of the prior rights phases, we would like to share this interview of Lucky Masilela, the CEO of ZA Registry, which manages among others the .AFRICA.

We conducted this interview several weeks ago, when the .AFRICA was still in sunrise. There was hope at the time that the prior rights phases and more generally the launch will be a hit, but no certainty.

With nearly 1 000 applications received during Sunrise, the .AFRICA entered firmly within the TOP 10 of the most successful New gTLDs launches.

As communicated by the registry : “Speaking during the roadshow launch, H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the AUC, stated that this monumental milestone will go down in history as an example of Africans from all walks of life working together to achieve a common goal and purpose. Furthermore, .africa represented to the AU Member States an opportunity for the continent to forge a unique online identity which would associate products, services and information with the continent and people of Africa“.

Let’s go back few weeks ago, when we collected the feedback and thoughts of Lucky Masilela regarding the interest of this TLD and his other projects for all the managed TLDs.

SafeBrands (SB) : Can you please give us more information about ZA Central Registry ? 

Lucky Masilela (L.M) : Of course ! The ZA Central Registry (ZACR) is a non-profit organisation (NPO) currently managing various .ZA second level domains, such as co.za, net.za, org.za and web.za. In 2014, ZA Central Registry added 3 new gTLDs to its administration, namely : .Joburg, .CapeTown and .Durban.

ZACR has a number of initiatives lined up to improve the uptake of domain name registrations within the .CapeTown, .Joburg and .Durban and now .AFRICA.

Most exciting of these initiatives is the launch of its Proxy Registrar Solution, which is intended to improve accessibility of the dotCity TLDs to more than 400 local registrars. This may have the effect of doubling or even tripling the domain registration figures within the next 12 months and also assist registrars to overcome the requirement of being ICANN Accredited Registrar to provision domain names within these namespaces.

SB : You are initialy in charge of .ZA ccTLD management, but you also applied for several african city TLDs, can you please let us know why you decided to go for this new challenge ? 

L.M : We realized at that time that we were operating on the biggest continental market and that we were then in a position to occupy and unify this internet space.

Indeed, our skills and competences in which we were really confident allowed us to think that we were able to go further beyond our ccTLD.

We decided to take advantage of the fact that we were and are also, the largest operator on the african continent and thus, organized  to manage all these TLDS realistically.

We took this as an opportunity to growth our market and moreover, assist the rest of the contient to do so.

Based on our projections regarding ccTLDs, we released some numbers which are hopefully not to far from our initial goal. However, we think that the cities have bigger market opportunities. One of the blocking points is the constraint linked to ICANN accreditation prerequisite.

Indeed, this prerequisite limits in pratice the number of local registrars. As you know there are only 11 ICANN accredited registar in Africa against more than 2000 worldwide.

Thus, we would like, and are working in this direction, to provide a service to local « registrars » which could allow them to apply for a domain name under one of « our » TLDs, without having to go through the ICANN accreditation process which is not really easy to undertake for many interested companies. Even if they could provide tremendous registration and management services anyway.

It is indeed quite difficult to obtain the accreditation due to the cost and the documentation needed. Also, it is sometimes complex for some companies to comply with he financial requirements for instance.

SB : Why did you decide to apply for .AFRICA ? 

L.M : We believe that this TLD is really valuable to help the development of local initiatives.

Thus, we are not seeing the .AFRICA as a simple TLD but as a larger project.

We are not just offering domain name registrations but we are also here to provide support. The domain name registration is one thing, but we also need to assist regarding the development of the content.

For that, we will also introduce some programms to assist the african ccTLD operators to growth and reach acceptable numbers, and increase the internet penetration.

If you look at the figures, there are only 2 millions of domain name registrations on the African continent which however counts more that 1.2 billion people.

Our perseption is that .AFRICA is not just a TLD,  it is representing a lifestyle for the continent, a brand identiy for companies, a cultural identify for the cities… it is a social and economic development tool. We see a lot of value in it.

It will also bring to the african market and its people mechanisms on how doing business.

Africa is the new growing market with the youngest population. All of those factors allow us to think that .AFRICA could help the fondamental developpemnt of internet in Africa.

But for that, we need and are commited to do so, to engage discussions with african governments to insist and let them understand the importance of the internet as an econimic tool.

Internet is not a tool made to sabotage governements or support actions against them : it is more that a communication tool, it is an economic tool which has a true value for countries and the developpment of local initiatives.

SB : There is no TLD so far which corresponds to a continent, except .ASIA , Do you think .AFRICA will be manage to serve the whole african community ? 

L.M : Indeed, we think that .AFRICA is different from other TLDs as it main purpose is to offer to the entire continent a possibility to easily be visible online and assert of a local identity.

Moreover, our goal is also to help more broadly the development of internet in Africa thanks to .AFRICA via different initiatives.

SB : Internet is growing rapidly in Africa currently, do you think .AFRICA will participate to this soaring ? 

L.M : We are going to create a fondation financed by some of the profits that .AFRICA will generate. This project will be flowing into this fondation and this fondation will fund activities . We will focus focus on ccTLD growth and hope that it will succeed and reach the community.

We will also work with african companies, to ensure that they obtained the support that they need to become a registrar and, address another main issue which is the current lack of local content. We want to help the creation and increase of communications through domain names in local languages for everyone to find accessible and understandable information dedicated to them.

We would like to help the development of information and communication technologies in Africa.

Finally, if you combined all these, their all have a net impact of the outtake of the domain names  and internet and will lead to a growth.

SB : You decided to give priority during sunrise to african trademarks on other ones, and AOPI joined several times ago (2014) the Madrid system for international trademark registrations, do you think it will help also to obtain more acceptance and registrations ?

L.M : Yes, but we also developped for our city TLDs our Mark Validation System » which allows local interested persons or entities which have an african trademark and would like to apply for .AFRICA, to use it instead of the TMCH.

It is here the same issue we discussed at the beggining concerning the complexity of becoming an ICANN accredited registar. As you can see, most of the TMCH agents are based in the north hemisphere . There could be a problematic of language spoken and ccomprehension, but also of cost.

We wanted to offer a specific TLD accessible for persons who want to establish or develop their local presence without having to support uneccessary costs linked to a service that they don’t need for the moment. We need to offer alternative solutions to facilitatet the development of internet in Africa and for that, we need to take into account the specificity of the market and of local needs.

A special Thanks to Lucky Masilela and I wish all the best to .AFRICA !