Namibia has found itself in a strange situation. Our country’s top domain is owned by a private Namibian entity. This is a problem. Although it is not uncommon for private entities to be in administrative control of issuing a certain countries domain name, these entities usually operate within mandates set by a national communication regulatory body or by government itself. But not in Namibia boeta, you just have Ondis. Chessssss!
This private entity comprised of three main individual shareholders called Ondis, in the early 90s saw that the Namibian government and private sector were sleeping on the the internet so they went and registered the .na domain with ICANN and now subsequently own the right to solely issue .na and .com.na domain names. The company has issued all Namibian domain names through its instruments including those of government for close to two decades now at an average rate of 100USD/year for .com.na domains and 500USD for .na top domain. With close to 3000 Namibian domain registrations to date, these guys must have made a pretty penny. All in all, 3000 domain name registrations to a population of 2.3 million people is not very exciting anyway. I daresay the fact that three guys are figuratively holding the whole country at ransom has something to do with that.
The cost of Namibian domain names is prohibitive, many Namibian’s end up purchasing .com and other domains which can be purchased from as little as 5 USD ( NAD 56) from services such as GoDaddy.com and Namecheap.com. Dr. Ebehard Lisse, one of the core shareholders of Ondis, has in the past defended prices saying the high cost was due to size of Namibia’s economy and that you would find similar price schemes with similar countries. A little research shows that this is simply not true.
Globally, domain registration prices for any country average around 10-20USD per year whereas Namibia’s are well over that range as the figure above shows. The Namibian ICT sector has had to make due with this problem but by no means has kept quiet on the issue. Since 2008 The Namibian ICT Alliance has in the past requested Ondis to have a more inclusive board so that stakeholder in the various ICT sectors could have better representation. Ondis has not yet ratified the request and has accused the ICT alliance of exerting political pressure instead of engaging with them. Frans Ndoroma MD of Telecom Namibia has also called for a multi-stakeholder body to be implemented to take control of the domain registration license.
I personally see this as a failure of both government, private sector and just what I can call nothing but greed and short sightedness by Ondis. Government and private sector should have exerted far more pressure to standardise the process and now that the internet permeates nearly every part of daily operation of most public and private entities, easy and cost effective domain registration is becoming a bottleneck to proper representation of those entities on the internet today. Conversely, Ondis should have initiated steps to transfer control of .na domain registrations to a publicly accountable organisation years ago. They have cited lack of expertise in domain management and Namibia’s small population as cause of the slow uptake of Namibian domain names but that is just ludicrous speaking as a private entity sitting outside of public scrutiny. How could they even hope to address those same concerns if they do not have a relationship with civil bodies in government? Their holding on to the ccTLD licence with such fervour, leads one to assume their motive is purely financial, whatever the case may be.
Lastly, where is ICANN in all this? In 2007 at the Rio Internet Governance Forum they apparently had promised Mnr. Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah then Min. of Info. & Broadcast that the ccTLD licence would be transferred over to government. You know what they say about promises. They need to be held to account, whether or not such a promise was made. That they continually allow this situation to pervade by ratifying Ondis ownership of the Namibian ccTLD goes against their own tenets of accessibility and accountability.
There does seem to be a growing amount of talk about the country on this very issue and hopefully the newly established CRAN and ICT ministry will spearhead a task-force to bring all concerned stakeholders together to sort this issue out. With the unveiling of the new domestic IXP, making sure that national internet domain assignments is a transparent and optimised process for the challenges we face ahead in the rapidly changing technological landscape is key