Africa’s internet registry could fail, warns head of ARIN – dodgy fellah scheming involved

The African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) has no board, no CEO, has sometimes been close to not being able to pay its staff, could fail, and other regional internet registries have therefore expressed interest in funding its ongoing activities, according to John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN).

Curran offered that view of AFRINIC’s affairs during a talk at the NANOG 87 event on February 14 that was posted to YouTube. In it, he explains that legal action means AFRINIC has not been able to constitute a board and has no CEO – the previous officeholder resigned in November 2022. Without a functioning board, AFRINIC can’t appoint a new leader or even conduct meetings to implement workarounds that allow it to appoint additional directors.

“That’s a bad situation,” Curran said, because “goal one of running an organization is not to lose the ability to govern the organization.”

Curran said AFRINIC is fulfilling its functions, but is “presently ungoverned” so “that kind of makes it hard to respond to court issues … because you literally don’t have anyone who can represent the organization.”

Attempts to have courts recognize temporary officers have failed.

Curran said this situation was unforeseen by those who established global internet governance services, so it is hard for entities like the Number Resource Organization – the coordinating body for the world’s Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) – to intervene.

Other RIRs have therefore offered operational financial support, Curran explained, to ensure that AFRINIC can pay its staff.

“At the present moment (i.e. this week), AFRINIC is able and paying its staff,” he said.

“But we’re kind of on a week-to-week basis with AFRINIC right now,” he added. “I’m literally telling you AFRINIC could have a significant operational failure led by governance failure or a court-led governance event that could cause it to be non-operational.”

“We hope that AFRINIC will find its way back into proper governance and be fine but we’re planning for a number of contingencies,” Curran suggested, among them how to create a new body to replace AFRINIC.

How did we get here and what’s the APNIC connection?

AFRINIC has experienced years of strife, but its current problems stem from litigation launched by an entity called Cloud Innovation Limited that was assigned several million IP addresses by the Registry.

The Registry later alleged those addresses had been misused – an accusation which Cloud Innovation contested in Mauritius – the nation in which AFRINIC is based.

That litigation is ongoing.

Lu Heng, the CEO of Cloud Innovation, has told The Register AFRINIC’s complaints are unfounded. Lu is also CEO of a Hong-Kong based IP address leasing and management company called Larus, which is a partner of Cloud Innovation. Larus is in turn connected to the Larus Foundation – an organization Lu Heng has described as “my NGO focuses on internet governance education.”

In an October 2022 talk, Curran mentioned [PDF] another source of trouble for the African registry: a “public relations campaign against AFRINIC by the Number Resource Society (NRS).”

NRS is an entity that claims to represent “everyone who has a shared interest in preserving the stability of the internet.”

The organization has taken an interest in the current elections at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) by endorsing candidates for vacant executive council positions. One of those candidates is Lu Heng. Another works for Larus, and a third works for the Larus Foundation.

APNIC yesterday announced it has appointed external lawyers to consider possible code of conduct breaches by unnamed candidates.

Lu Heng responded with a post pointing out that APNIC’s chief counsel once worked at the law firm APNIC has appointed, and asserted that the choice of that firm is improper.

Interestingly, The Register has discovered that the NRS’s website once listed Larus’s Hong Kong address as its own location.

Lu Heng told The Register “Larus is a member of NRS and supports its work” but has not responded to subsequent questions about whether that support extends to providing it with premises.

The Register has since discovered a Wayback Machine snapshot of the NRS’s Contact Us page on which the written address is coded as a mailto link to – the NGO Lu Heng describes as his own entity, and which shares a name with one of the companies he leads.

As the inclusion of a Larus Foundation email address suggests a link between Lu Heng and the NRS, we have asked him to explain why that address was once present on the NRS website.

We have also asked Lu if Larus staff have undertaken any work – paid or unpaid – for NRS.

He has not addressed either question in his responses.

The Register has also contacted the other NRS-endorsed candidates for the APNIC election, as well as an individual named “John Smith” identified as the organization’s press contact, and written to the email address. None of those efforts have yielded a response. Calls to Mr Smith’s telephone number produce only a recorded message that connection attempts have failed and we should check the number.

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Source: Africa’s internet registry could fail, warns head of ARIN • The Register

Robin Edgar

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