ADDIS ABABA – The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) launched a Coalition for Digital Africa, an initiative aimed at expanding the Internet in the continent, on Thursday.
“The Coalition is an alliance of like-minded organizations committed to building a robust and secure Internet infrastructure to bring more Africans online,” announced the US-based Organisation ICANN at the 2022 Internet Governance Forum, taking place in Addis Ababa.
Home to the youngest population on the planet, 70% of whom are under age 30, Africa has one of the fastest-growing Internet penetration rates in the world.
Internet connectivity is growing by leaps and bounds – from 1.2% in 2000 to 43% in 2021 – driven by a digitally savvy, young, and educated urban workforce for whom adopting and using online services is second nature.
The coalition will promote innovation aimed at building technical capacity and encouraging entrepreneurialism by enabling people to access the Internet using their own languages and scripts.
‘New Way of Cooperation’
“The Coalition for Digital Africa provides an opportunity for new ways of cooperating and collaborating among diverse stakeholders,” said ICANN President and CEO Gӧran Marby.
“Though the Coalition was initiated by ICANN, its success is dependent on synergistic work with other organizations – be they local, regional, or international,” Marby continued.
These organizations, the CEO said, are united with a view to “enhance Africa’s Internet infrastructure, increase the rate of Internet access, bolster Internet security, and raise the level of participation from Africa in multi-stakeholder policymaking development”.
The Coalition, which was officially launched at the 2022 IGF in Addis Ababa, has already rolled out activities to make the Domain Name System (DNS) infrastructure in Africa more robust so that it can cater to rapid growth.
These activities include the installation of an ICANN Managed Root Server (IMRS) cluster in Kenya last month. Another cluster is also planned for the second location in Africa next year.
These clusters enable regional Internet queries to be answered within the region, rather than being dependent on networks and servers in other parts of the world.
The IMRS clusters will also reduce the impact of potential cyberattacks in Africa.
“The launch of the Coalition brings us one step closer to strengthening the Internet infrastructure in Africa,” John Omo, Secretary General for the African Telecommunications Union (ATU).
It “provides an important vehicle to enable a better protected DNS and more secure Internet infrastructure in Africa,” Omo added.
The Coalition will begin by working to better adapt the Internet in Africa to enable digital inclusivity and create opportunities to spur the growth of local content and businesses.
Key to that effort is Universal Acceptance (UA), which ensures that all valid domain names and email addresses, regardless of length or script, can be used by all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems.
Involves African universities
With UA, people who are already connected, and those who will be connected in the future, can communicate over the Internet and access local content in their preferred languages and scripts.
The Association of African Universities (AAUs) will be tasked to tackle the UA project that is aimed at making email and other systems within higher education.
“This is an important and welcome initiative for Africa. Improving the technical capacity of higher education institutions across the continent is imperative for a digital Africa,” said Olusola Bandele Oyewole, Secretary General of the AAUs.
“We are happy to take part in this journey to give African Internet users the opportunity to be part of a truly global, inclusive, and multilingual Internet,” he added.
The Coalition comprises governments, regional and international organizations, and the local Internet community. Inaugural partners of the Coalition also include the African Information Network Centre, AfRegistrar Association, and Africa Top Level Domain.
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