The Internet continues to grow at a radical pace, in spite of the global recession, but a sad reality is that the 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.
There are fewer than one-million African country domain name registrations, says Mr Vika Mpisane, General Manager of .za Domain Name Authority and Chairman of African Top Level Domains. 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.”
What causes African businesses to register outside African domains? Are they not patriotic enough? Mpisane feels the main reason for this is the ongoing challenge of local ICT infrastructure in Africa.
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.”
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,” says 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 mobilize 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.”
A recent quarterly reports show that the number of domain names registered worldwide amounts to fewer than 184 million, and of this figure country domains such as .za and .uk account for around 74.4 million registrations. The generic or non-country domains such as .com and .net account for at least 109.4 million registrations. This shows, according to Mpisane, that generic domains continue to be the fastest growing, thanks to .com which alone has around 84 million registrations.
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.
As things stand in .za, there are domains where people can register names for free or for a once-off registration fee. “Domains such as nom.za, which is for individuals, and school.za, which is for schools, basically charge no fee for registration, while domains like org.za may charge a once-off fee. Of course, domain name holders who want to run their own websites will then separately pay hosting fees to their Internet service providers.”
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