Exclusive Interview With Abibu R. Ntahigiye, CEO of .tzNIC (Tanzania)
Tanzania is a beautiful coastal country in East Africa with a population of more than 50 million people. Tanzania is known for it’s vast wilderness and as the home to the famous Kilimanjaro National Park and Africa’s highest mountain. The country provides variety in tropical shores and plains. Graduate of the University of Dar es Salaam, Abibu R. Ntahigiye has been with tzNIC for 9 years.
The greatest challenge for tzNIC is communicating the value of registering .tzNIC over popular generic domain names like .com. tzNIC currently has 12 categories of the second level (the most popular being .co.tz) and have not yet opened up the second level although there is possibility of opening it to the public in the future. They are the third country in Africa to deploy DNSSEC and have the support of key players in Tanzania such as Vodacom.co.tz!
Watch the exclusive interview with Tanzania’s (tzNIC), CEO, Abibu R. Ntahigiye below!
Joe: The first thing I would like to do is to introduce Abibu. I met Abibu at – well, I may have met you at the ICANN meeting in Johannesburg or was it first time in the Africa DNS forum? I’m trying to remember.
Abibu: I think it was in Johannesburg.
Abibu: The first time we met.
Joe: I was fortunate enough to go to Dar es Salaam. In fact, I got a chance to go a little bit for a day or two to Zanzibar which was a wonderful place to visit. I got a spice tour and spent some time right on the sea there. A beautiful country. The little bit I know about Tanzania is it’s a country where they have the Kilimanjaro National Park which is beautiful. I wish I would have been able to spend a little bit more time there.
Abibu: Fun time?
Joe: Yeah, yeah. It’s also – I know that Tanzania has the big five – the elephant, the lion, the leopard, the buffalo, the rhino.
Joe: Just an amazing place and I got to spend almost a week there with many of the Country Code operators. And one of them that I met, I had the sense was a leader and somebody who knows a lot of people from all over Africa, was Abibu. And how do you pronounce your last name? I want to make sure I say it right, Abibu.
Abibu: My last name is Ntahigiye. The way it’s just written.
Joe: Okay. Very good.
Joe: So he runs the .tz country code. To me, that’s a very interesting one. Tanzania was a beautiful country. It looks like it’s a country that holds a lot of promise. So I just want to ask you a few questions about how you got involved with .tz and also a little bit about yourself and then about the actual ccTLD. Kind of give me a little bit of your own history, Abibu. How did you become involved in the domain industry and especially with .tz?
Abibu: Basically, I’m the graduate from the University of Dar es Salaam. I did an engineering course in electrical and telecommunication. After graduation, I joined an airline telecommunication company called Sita, S-I-T-A.
Abibu: And I worked there for 11.5 years before joining tzNIC.
Joe: Oh, okay.
Abibu: And I was the first recruit of tzNIC.
Abibu: Yes. So I joined in 2008. And by then, tzNIC had just been registered. It was registered way back in 2006 in November.
Abibu: So, once they were done, I was the first recruit in March 2008 as the first manager of tzNIC.
Joe: Wow. Excellent.
Abibu: Thereafter, other staff were recruited and currently we have seven staff members.
Joe: Wow. – oh, so you have seven people on staff right now?
Joe: Okay. That’s interesting. So how many – if I may ask, how many domains on your management are there on the tzNIC registry now?
Abibu: Currently, we have more than 14,000 domains. It’s a small registry, but we hope with a population of more than 50 million people, with the time, maybe it’s going to grow like other countries.
Joe: That would be very exciting.
Joe: You know, I had a sense when I came to visit Dar es Salaam which is – is that the biggest city there?
Abibu: Yeah, it is. But we have other relatively big but not like Dar es Salaa. In terms of population, I’m saying, not in terms of area coverage.
Abibu: But we have other cities. We have Kilimanjaro region as well where Kilimanjaro Mountain is. We have Arusha. Arusha, where you have this Ngorongoro Crater, et cetera.
Abibu: You have Mwanza.
Abibu: So there are other regions which are beautiful as well, not in terms of population.
Joe: Yeah. I had a sense that it had a pretty fast-growing business community. And I suppose that that’s important for domain names because, obviously, the more people that are running businesses, the more businesses want to share information and sell products. So it seemed to me that it was pretty big in terms of the business community and growing pretty fast.
Abibu: Very true. And I think it is the case with the most countries in Africa whereby you find these capital cities or business cities, you have even more registrars compared to other regions outside of these business cities.
Joe: Yeah. So how is the growth? I mean, I’m curious of your experience there. Okay, so you say you have about 14,000 domains under management.
Joe: What are some of the challenges that you have faced and maybe overcome, and some of the challenges that you still are working on today?
Abibu: Basically, there is a challenge on awareness on the values, especially on the competition with the generic domain names. The .coms are very popular.
Abibu: And most people think that they are international. But we are telling them that had we started at par with the .com, maybe the country codes would be leading, but it’s not the case. So it will take time for the awareness. And, you know, awareness also needs funds, more funds to reach more people so that – and you need also to build the trust because it’s not the matter that use .tz, it’s the matter that .tz works. And the operation of .tz depends on many, many players. First of all, the registry and you have the registrars and the DNS operators.
Abibu: So basically, the efforts we are making is the awareness about the values of ccTLD domains, .tz domain, but also making sure that this .tz domain, the web servers and main servers giving the services for .tz domain are operational. And in this regard, we have decided – I hope you know something called AfNOG, African Network Operators Group.
Joe: I’ve seen their website. I donut know too much about them but I have familiarity.
Abibu: It’s about building in Africa. So we have localized the effort so that we build the capacity of the local operators so that in the long run, we brand the .tz and people appreciate that .tz also works.
Joe: Yeah. Do you do any kind of advertising within Tanzania or…
Abibu: Yeah, We do a lot of advertisements through newspapers, through radio, through various media.
Joe: Wow, okay.
Joe: So would you say that – you talk about competition with .com, –
Joe: – Are there many more .com domains or would you say there are more .tz in the country?
Abibu: Well I can’t ascertain the number of .com domains or other generic key domains, but what I can say is that most of the common people use .com email accounts.
Abibu: Whether you count the domain names and use of .com, there are two different aspects.
Joe: Yeah, that’s true.
Abibu: You might have yahoo.com users, gmail.com users but it’s a single domain, serving a number of people. So I can’t tell exactly the number of generic key domain names versus .tz domain names.
Joe: Right, okay. Do you have restrictions on .tz in terms of who’s allowed to register it or are they available all over the world or you just offer them mostly to Tanzanian citizens?
Abibu: Well, at the moment, I can say the restriction is there but the conditions are very minimal because we understand that .tz is for Tanzanian entities and Tanzanians as well but also we have other Tanzanians outside of the country. So we can’t close the door completely. So we insist that even if you are a foreigner, when you will register a domain name, we need at least a local contact.
Abibu: Meaning that you can have two administrable contacts, you yourself and someone within the country. So that for the administration purposes, we donut incur any cost when there is any issues related to our domain. So I can say somehow it’s half open or half close.
Abibu: Something like that.
Joe: So you require a local contact but through a local contact, I guess somebody from out of the country can register domains?
Abibu: Yeah, very true, very true.
Joe: How about with accrediting registrar?
Abibu: Registrars also require a local presence but if you follow the DNS forum, we were discussing this issue and basically and primarily opening up the accreditation outside of the country and had a proposal that at least we can start at the sub regional level like East Africa first, and see how far we can go. Once this is done within the sub region, then it easy to extend outside of the sub region, either to the continent or to the world at large.
Joe: Right. Oh, that makes sense. So you – what is your – what is your primary website?
Joe: For your website, what do you guys use over there? Is it niz.tz or what –
Abibu: No, it is tznic.or.tz.
Joe: .tz. Okay, I was curious of your own website.
Abibu: Yeah. But we have – we have a special registration portal.
Joe: Oh, you do?
Abibu: Yeah, we do. It’s called the Karibu. It means welcome. K-A-R-I-Bu.
Joe: Oh, Karibu. Yeah. Okay, yeah, I can see – I see your tznic site now.
Joe: I’m looking at that right now. Passionately Tanzanian, that’s really good. That’s a good saying. I like that.
Joe: And then you have the Karibu one as well.
Abibu: Yeah, have we registered it? Karibu.tz. Basically, it’s a list and now registrars with the registration particulars.
Joe: I like your – I like your saying, “It’s my country and my domain.” That’s very nice.
Abibu: Thank you.
Joe: But it looks like you’re thinking about, you know, ways of helping people to remember the .tz.
Joe: And that’s something that’s really important. Okay, very nice. So that’s another question. So are people able to register .tz at the second level or must they have something like .co or .or in front of it?
Abibu: Yeah, currently, we have twelve categories of the second level and we have not opened up the second level. But we are thinking of opening after doing some research if we were to add value or not.
Joe: Yeah, I think this seems to be a trend amongst many country codes to begin looking at the second level. Apparently, you know, people like short domain names. So the less restriction, obviously, the easier it is for them and more desirable, I would say, so that there’s –
Abibu: Yeah, it’s true. It’s true but also identification is key because having registration at the third level, it adds more identification that maybe you are a government entity or you are a corporate entity or something like that. So it’s a matter researching, not just changing the policy and we are looking for this learning from nominet – nominet went through the same process.
Abibu: Where we are registering in the third level and they have moved to the second level. So we needed to learn from the challenges they got and then we can – we can decide to register on the second level.
Joe: Now, that brings up an interesting question also related to that. Do you work with an intellectual property organization such as WIPO?
Joe: Yeah, or any of those.
Abibu: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, we do it with WIPO and this is since 2011, if I’m not mistaken. And the reason behind is that we don’t have many experts in the continent supporting domain dispute issues. By the time I ask them, they had only one – one panelist from Uganda.
Abibu: And so I thought we should start with WIPO, so we got into contract with them but we are promoting our local firms also to do arbitration of domain names. And currently, we have one legal company which can deal with the domain dispute resolution services. So we are building their local capacity also, so that registrants can have a choice, either to international dispute operator or to a local firm.
Joe: That seems like a really smart way to do it. Obviously, there will be companies that want to work with the local arbitration firm and then of course, WIPO has all that experience all over the world and there’s going to be those too
Abibu: Right because we are not certain where the dispute will be coming from.
Joe: Right. All right, tell me a little bit about technology. What do you guys – how do you guys – what kinds of technology are you using? Are you developing your own registry systems, do you use someone else’s? I’m just curious of how you do that nowadays.
Abibu: Yeah, we are using someone else’s. Basically, we are using the open package from Czech Republic.
Joe: Oh, okay.
Abibu: Yeah. It is called the FRED.
Joe: Yeah, I have heard of it, yeah.
Abibu: Yeah. We have adopted it and we are using it effectively. And it has even supported us to deploy DNSSEC.
Joe: Has that already been done or is it something you’re planning now?
Abibu: No, we are the third country in Africa to deploy DNSSEC. We deployed in 2012.
Joe: Wow, very good.
Abibu: Yeah, yeah.
Joe: I think that’s becoming more important today than ever before, considering all of the – you know, just so many – so much fraud and so many attacks.
Abibu: Very true.
Abibu: And then basically, registrants are needed to be assured of the security issues.
Joe: Yeah. I was actually going to ask you about DNSSEC. So you beat me to that one. That’s great.
Joe: It’s a very important factor, I think.
Abibu: Yeah. And the challenge we are having with the DNSSEC is taking down further to the registrars and the registrant. We have very domains signed because of the capacity of the registrars and DNS operators. But we are also building the capacity of our registrars so that they can complete the chain of trust.
Joe: Right. I think that’s a matter of education. And you should know that even in the United States, the number of domains that are actually signed at the end user level is quite low. I mean, there’s a lot of room for improvement in there. But it starts with registries, doesn’t it?
Abibu: Very true. And basically, the registry has to be in front, you donut have to lag behind. You donut have to be pushed by your customers to deploy something. So for .tz registry, we made sure that we are IPV6 ready and also ready for DNSSEC deployment.
Joe: So, okay, talking a little bit about marketing –
Joe: – so what – you know, I always like to bring up – you mentioned that you are starting to do some business out of Tanzania. How do you feel about what they call domain hacks? Now, I’m thinking with .tz, I mean, there’s possibilities for things it could mean. There’s a lot of words in the English language that end with .tz. But, you know, I mean, just playing around with some ideas, you know, there might be people that would think – I don’t know, it’s a really tough one, maybe time zone, twilight zone, training zone or test zone. Well, are you getting people that are registering .tz with English words or as anything other than that meaning, Tanzania?
Abibu: So far, I haven’t such experience. But I remember the first time I visited Geneva for the – a certain exhibition, I heard of a city in Germany ending with T-Z. It’s called Metz – something like Metz.
Joe: Oh, right. That’s right.
Abibu: I haven’t seen such registration but – because we have the second level of .ne.tz, I was expecting maybe more registration from Germany in that city called the Metz.
Joe: Right. It’s a pretty –
Abibu: But I donut have any experience with these English words, just like maybe for the case of Nigeria with NG.
Joe: Right, right.
Joe: Do you guys – would you say more of your sales come from your direct channel or do more of your sales come from registrars?
Abibu: Pardon? Come again?
Joe: Do more of your sales come through a direct channel, meaning they register directly through the Tanzanian registry, or do more of your sales come through registrars?
Abibu: We have adopted the three-R model and very few are within our account. Initially, we are the first registrar before accrediting the registrars. And when we took over, there were some domains already registered in the past.
Joe: I see.
Abibu: So there are some domains already registered on our account but most of the registration now are done by the registrars.
Joe: Okay. So, yeah, I mean this is always a big question. Registrars, you know, want to always make sure that they have an equal opportunity to compete.
Joe: So, how many registrars do you guys have nowadays?
Abibu: We have more than 50 registrars at the moment.
Joe: Okay, very cool.
Abibu: Yeah. Close to 60 or 65, I’m not very sure of the exact number.
Joe: Okay. Yeah, that’s excellent.
Abibu: But for us, it’s not the issue of a big number. We need performing registrars. So even if we have 10 registrars who are performing, it could be better than 100 registrars, 90 of them non-performing.
Joe: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting, on a worldwide level, you know, I’ve always said even though there’s well over 2,000 or 3,000 registrars that are ICANN-accredited, it really comes down to about 100 that matter. I mean, like 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 actually really do a lot of the business. Is that what you find is –
Abibu: Yeah, yeah. The key issue is performance, not the big number of them.
Joe: Okay. So what are some of the strategic goals that you have for your registry in order to continue to grow?
Abibu: Our concern basically is on publicity and awareness so that most Tanzanians, when it comes to domain names, then the .tz should be the first choice. That is key because even our sustainability depends on the domain volume. We are trying to have the domain fee to be competitive with the .com. So basically, we rely fully on domain volume to be sustainable. But at the moment, we are supported by the regulator in terms of funding. But in the long run, we need to be independent. So, basically, the key strategy is on increasing the number of registrations.
Joe: Would you say that the registry is profitable, you know, since you mentioned that or is it still –
Abibu: No. It’s not for profit.
Joe: Okay, so it is –
Abibu: It’s not for profit and it’s a member-based company.
Abibu: And it includes the public and private. It’s a PPP.
Joe: I see, okay.
Joe: How many domain names do you think you’d have to have to be able to turn a profit?
Abibu: We need not less than 50,000 domains.
Joe: Okay, all right.
Joe: Yeah, that sounds – it does sound reasonable to me. I mean, it is a big country, no doubt about it. And I think you’re on to something in terms of, you know, you need to convince more people in Tanzania to use a local –
Abibu: Very true.
Joe: – a local domain rather than .com. So that makes a lot of sense.
Okay. What about market segments? So, you know, would you say registrations in .tz come more from business community, from personal end users, from educational? I mean, I’m curious of what kinds of market segments you guys have.
Abibu: Basically, it’s from commercial.
Abibu: Yeah. Even at the moment, the big volume of domains are under .co.tz.
Joe: Really? Have you made any efforts to get like, for example, somebody mentioned at the DNS forum, to try to get your biggest companies within the country to use it, the airline, obviously government – have you guys made any efforts to get some of the larger Tanzanian companies to use .tz or maybe they are already?
Abibu: Yeah, I remember most of the telco companies, they are using .co.tz and one of them is Vodacom. They are using the Vodacom.co.tz and since they are managing their own DNS, they donut have any complaints regarding the .tz registry.
Joe: And do they advertise it? Do you see their – that domain on billboards or on television ads or any –
Abibu: Yes, they donut use any other domain apart from vodacom.co.tz.
Joe: Oh, that’s excellent. So I bet – you know, that’s an excellent thing to have.
Abibu: Yeah. Basically, I was looking forward for them to be like a accredited registrars of .tz. Probably it would have been a good idea.
Joe: Yeah, is there –
Abibu: Yeah, because they can provide the reliable DNS services to the registrants.
Joe: Right. No response yet or ?
Abibu: Well, approaching them is difficult, you need some people to convince them some stuff who can approach the top management and convince them about their business lines. You know, it’s like a normal registrar can perform more than an ISP because an ISP thing that maybe domain registration business is not a cash cow business line.
Abibu: So to convince them you need some effort.
Abibu: So even for the telco companies, they might think maybe domain business is not an issue – that is not a business line that can become a cash cow.
Joe: Interesting. Yeah, how do – you know, people – a lot of businesses if I go back five years in the United States, used to advertise in yellow pages. Nowadays, the yellow pages have gone from being this thick to being like that thick. Is that happening – is that happening in Tanzania as well?
Abibu: Well, I haven’t looked at the yellow pages for some time now. But I remember I made some advert through the yellow pages sometime but about four or five years ago.
Joe: You’re looking for your yellow pages, right? I know it’s –
Abibu: But I donut know how big it is at the moment but, well, I think it’s online as well.
Joe: Yeah, I think more people are just finding information online and that has made it a lot less useful to kill all the trees.
Joe: Yeah, okay.
Abibu: I always even recall in the past years when we had no mobile phone services whereby with a landline you are given a very big address book –
Abibu: – but not – you donut have many institutions or individuals requesting for landlines so this address book for the landline numbers should not expect to grow.
Joe: Yeah, in fact even –
Abibu: Almost all the people are using cellular phones.
Joe: Even here we have a trend where people are turning off their home phones and just using their cellphones.
Abibu: You can imagine.
Joe: That brings up one other issue I wanted to ask you about. In terms of the access to the Internet, is – do you have any data as to how many people access the Internet via mobile phones in Tanzania versus desktops?
Abibu: I donut have the exact number but for sure that number has grown.
Abibu: I don’t have statistics. Maybe from the regulators webpage, it can be obtained but I’m not very sure of the current figure because the mobile phone services has grown up to remote areas.
Joe: I see.
Abibu: So people can access Internet over there using the mobile phone. They can also send money through mobile phone so basically mobile phone has been a very, very useful platform.
Joe: Yeah. I think –
Abibu: Currently – the only option for myself to send to my grandfather or my father in remote areas is through mobile phone and mobile phones are – most people can achieve buying the mobile phone for their relatives.
Joe: What is the payment technology that you’re using there in Tanzania? Is it the same like Kenya’s? I know they have, what, M-Pesa.
Abibu: Yeah, we have the same. We have M-Pesa through Vodacom. We have Tigo Pesa through call… a company called Tigo. We have Airtel Money through Airtel. And there is a new company called the Halotel. They have HALOPESA. So most the options are coming through all the mobile phones in operation.
Joe: So I guess their competition helps to move some money around so people can buy things –
Abibu: Very true. And even at the moment, you can send money across various network like the Tigo Pesa, M-Pesa and Airtel Money. You can send across those different networks.
Joe: Wow, that sounds really good. I’m glad to see that because I think that’s one of the keys to unlocking the value of the Internet within each of the countries in Africa.
Abibu: Yeah. Yeah.
Joe: Okay. All right. Well, listen, do you have anything else that you want to share while we’re on the interview?
Abibu: The challenges in terms of marketing, you know, these services are very technical so even marketing it is challenging.
Abibu: And from participation in various DNS forum, I have attendant all of them. And for the time being at least a way on which are the best marketing options. In the past, people are thinking that if you give a domain for free then you’re going to have more registrations but in the end we end up with more deletions especially to people who are knowledgeable to domain, they will register them for free with a hope that they’re going to sell them. So there is a lot of experience in regarding marketing and we hope maybe will the time when the communities’ knowledge upon the opportunities then more domains will be coming.
Abibu: But I can see a lot of challenges to people who are not used having their brands or domains now maybe they might be taken by some other people and this has been my message whenever I meet a certain community or when I attend some annual general meeting or some groups. Yeah, but in the mentality that the .coms and have domains that are international is still in our people’s minds and this will change with the time.
Joe: Yeah, okay. Well, listen, I’ve been talking to Abibu Ntahigiye. I pronounced it right? And he’s the CEO of tzNIC and it looks like you have plenty of challenges but it also looks like you’ve met a lot of the challenges and I definitely want to wish you a great success as you move forward with the .tz –
Abibu: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
Joe: – domains. All right, thank you very much. And thank you for coming out to coutrycodepeople.info.
Abibu: Thank you.
Joe: All right. Bye-bye for now.
Abibu: I’ll see you next time.