Africa suffers 'web colonialism'
Johannesburg - African country domain names are not growing into a strong force because of a lack of government support that has resulted in a sort of "Internet Colonialism" being practised.
Vika Mpisane, General Manager of .za Domain Name Authority and Chairperson of African Top Level Domain, said on Thursday there are fewer than one million African country domain name registrations.
But this figure must be seen in the overall context because, Mpisane observes, many millions of registrations are on non-African domains, such as .com, and .net.
"Had African businesses registered under their countries' domains, then a far different picture would have emerged."
Mpisane says the main reason for African businesses registering outside African domains is the ongoing challenge of local ICT infrastructure in Africa.
Clear government support needed
For a country domain to work, it is not enough to have the local internet industry to support it, but one should have clear government support and investment as well. "It is because of the lack of government support that a substantial number of African domains are not growing," he said.
He notes that an embarrassing facet is that some African domains are not even operated by local entities. There is still the problem - one can call it "internet colonialism" - where a person in Europe, America or elsewhere runs the domain of an African country.
The irony is that these people do not even stay in that country, are not citizens and are not accountable to that country's government.
"More often than not the cause for this is that certain governments were not willing in the first place to invest in supporting their domains, which is sad because when a domain is operated outside that country, the country misses out on an opportunity to develop skills locally," said Mpisane.
"Not only that, but the money made out of domain name registrations goes to people outside that country. If this trend continues, then Africa might as well learn to accept the digital divide.
"Africa needs to build its local e-commerce and develop the much-needed ICT skills. If a government does not take a leadership role and mobilise local internet community, it might as well accept that it is, and will remain, an internet colony and its master is likely somebody outside its borders."
He added that it was of utmost importance that each country in Africa has its domain operated locally. "Experience in locally operated domains such as .za has shown that the country domain is an important enabler in getting more businesses and individuals to have their own websites ending with their country's domain, and also to boost local e-commerce."
In South Africa, .za continues to grow steadily and the growth is largely because the administrators of .za domains, such as co.za, org.za and gov.za are local entities. They have a better control over prices and this allows them to offer affordable registration fees.