Boss Talk

Geoffrey Shimanyula: How KeNIC plans to grow uptake of dot ke domain

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Geoffrey Shimanyula, the chairman of Kenya Network Information Centre (KeNIC). ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH BARASA | NMG

Kenya's local web domain dot ke has recently come under sharp focus over safety concerns blamed for sluggish uptake compared to other top-level domains (TLDs).

The Business Daily sat with Geoffrey Shimanyula, the chairman of Kenya Network Information Centre (KeNIC) which handles the registration and issuance of the domain to discuss what they are doing to increase uptake and its role in digitising the economy.

How many websites are currently on the dot ke domain?

We crossed the 100,000 mark in November last year. It’s not that we haven’t grown, what does happen in this business is that people register a domain name for a specific purpose and when that purpose ends, they forget about it.

So our biggest challenge has been to renew these domains. Out of the about 110,000 dot ke domains registered as of now, we have around 80 percent active websites.

Does that mean there are people who you register and they don’t set up websites?

Precisely. You can register a domain name and all you need it for is to create emails and you don’t need a website.

What other roles does KeNIC play in policing Kenya’s Internet space?

We have four member bodies that constitute the KeNIC board; Technology Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), Domain-Name Registrar Association of Kenya (DRAKE), Kenya Education Network Trust (KENET) and the ICT Authority (ICTA).

We are all working towards making this country digitised. One area where we’ve participated very strongly is on the National Computer and Cybercrimes Coordination Committee (NC4) which oversees, provides direction, coordinates actions, and monitors the implementation and enforcement of cyber security and computer systems policies.

Right now there is a big discussion about digitising the economy and we are also part of that.

We are proposing that businesses should be required to give their web addresses before being registered so that when we are looking for you we have enough details about you.

That’s how we’ll start pushing for the uptake of the dot ke domain.

Wouldn’t it work better for you if you persuaded the businesses instead of compelling them?

We are only proposing this and we are saying, look, when you set up your company, you will need to communicate.

So right now the procedure is you put your P.O BOX, which is now becoming obsolete, and you also put a phone number for people to call you.

There is that other option of being reached via email and that’s simply what we are saying. Make sure you are easily accessible. We are actually selling you value as opposed to pushing it down your throats.

Buying a dot ke domain name is only Sh1,000 which is renewable annually at Sh800. Is that a cost to worry about?

A post office box is Sh3,000 for an individual, and for a company it is more.

How would you rate the performance of the dot ke domain against rivals?

Let me start with Africa. When you are looking at Africa’s country-based domains, I think dot sa (South African) is still ahead of us, then there is Nigeria’s dot ng and then we come third.

Given our population compared to those of our competitors, I think we have done pretty well on the continent but there is room for improvement.

What about when we are comparing competition with other top-level domains (TLDs) like dot Africa, dot com, and dot org?

When we are comparing against TLDs, I think our main competitor is dot com. Dot Africa is following but they are a bit far.

What can Kenya do to increase the global competitiveness of our local domain?

We can only push dot ke to those entities that have an interest in Kenya.

If you are in the US. for example, and you have no business with Kenya, it doesn’t matter how beautiful our domain is, it won’t help you unless you want to use it for fraudulent reasons.

How did the Covid-19 pandemic impact the uptake of the local domain given that most ventures shifted to online operations during that period?

It was a win-lose situation because when Covid happened, so many businesses closed down so registrations technically were affected.

At the same time, we also saw some new uptakes, especially for e-commerce ventures.

The flip side is that we saw takers of dot ke moving from just giving information on a website to setting up transactional sites whose trading now became regular.

There is a push by the government to tax digital businesses and firms making money online. From where you sit, what is going to be the impact of this on the growth of websites in Kenya?

Any time there is an increment of taxes on products or services, there is usually an initial effect of people reducing consumption but eventually, they will cope with the new reality.

Maybe they would have given the players and the partakers a grace period, some time for people to be onboarded.

The ideal situation would have been to make it easy and affordable at the initial stages and then once we have the numbers, and then the need to increase taxes would not arise because the numbers would add up.

There are concerns about security with some users saying they are more prone to hacking as seen in the case of government-owned websites. How do you explain this?

Let me draw an analogy. KeNIC as a registry is like an apartment owner. When I give you the right to use my apartment, it is not my responsibility to ensure that you lock your door when you are going to bed.

If the apartment starts leaking, then that’s a different story.

When we talk about dot ke, ours is to give the name. Where you put it, we cannot dictate, it is for you to choose.

It is inherent upon the owner of the domain name to ensure that wherever their website is hosted is with a secure entity.

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