What’s happening in AFRINIC?

Disclaimer: This is an outsider’s view based on what has been read on public mailing lists, there is undoubtedly more going on behind the scenes.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle in AFRINIC recently, and as I’ve been trying to follow what has been happening, a few friends have asked what is going on, so from my understanding, which I freely admit is limited, this is my interpretation.

What has brought this to a head recently is that AFRINIC audited the IP address holdings of Cloud Innovation (CI), a company that notionally is in the Seychelles and falls under AFRINIC’s jurisdiction, but to all intents and purposes is a part of LARUS Limited, headquartered in Hong Kong and whose main business is trading or leasing IP address space.

There are several reasons this is contentious.  The AFRINIC community has long held out against an inter-RIR resource transfer policy, believing IP addresses allocated by AFRINIC should be used in the region AFRINIC serves, whilst all the other RIRs (RIPE NCC for Europe and the Middle East, APNIC for Asia-Pacific, LACNIC for Latin America, and ARIN for North America and the Caribbean) have approved inter-RIR transfer policies.

As the last RIR to be constituted, relatively speaking AFRINIC has very few IPv4 addresses to allocate — to a continent where Internet deployment, whilst lagging, has a large growth potential, so a reluctance to approve a transfer policy sounds like a reasonable step, but network topology and geography don’t always fully overlap.

However, the grounds that AFRINIC conducted these audits are not entirely clear.  There was a policy proposed that would have enabled AFRINIC to perform the audits, but that policy failed to gain consensus, and CI maintain that not only were the addresses allocated according to policy, but they were still being used according to policy.  So, when AFRINIC threatened to withdraw them, CI started proceedings in the Mauritian courts (the jurisdiction AFRINIC operates under) to reinstate the registrations and sue for US$1.8bn in compensation.

Now, I’m not sure where that figure came from, because even bearing in mind a market price of US$30 per IP address, that’s still an order of magnitude greater than would be accounted for by the price of the 6M addresses held by CI.  However, pending the outcome of that, AFRINIC’s bank accounts (annual revenue ~US$6M) were frozen to the tune of US$50M and they were ordered to reinstate the registrations.  AFRINIC prevaricated over this until another court hearing where they were told to comply.

Since that time (well, since long before that really) the community has split.  There are those who would like a more liberal approach to address transfers, not all of whom are associated with CI I hasten to add, and there are those who would still like AFRINIC’s resources to be limited to use in Africa.  There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong, and to some extent each of the other RIRs have had this discussion at various points over the last few years (often more than once).  What is different this time is that lawyers are involved and that the RIR’s bank account has been frozen.  There is an “RIR stability fund” ostensibly established by all the RIRs, but which has always been acknowledged as being primarily aimed at propping up AFRINIC if/when it needed it.

CI is not a friend of any RIR, so to some extent “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” but to say that glibly would ignore some of the other recent parts of AFRINIC’s history which have involved IP address fraud and resignations (though fewer of the latter than some would like to have seen), more of which can be read about in this article.  There have been a few public statements of support for AFRINIC which equally have attracted some dissension or have been worded less than equivocally (e.g. ISOC’s statement).

Equally, “an organisation in Hong Kong” set up the Number Resources Alliance website (now the Number Resources Society), which is not only a fairly blatant attempt to undermine AFRINIC, but purports to quote the late Rob Blokzijl, former RIPE chair, in saying “RIR is just a bookkeeper.” A second glance, however, shows that isn’t a quote from Rob Blokzijl, it’s a quote from an obituary to him. That obituary was left by Lu Heng, the CEO of LARUS.

[Since I first wrote this post, Lu has contacted me on Twitter to ask me to make it clear that Rob did say that to him.]

And this is where we are.  There is another court hearing on Wednesday (today) about unfreezing AFRINIC’s accounts, and some more may come to light there.  I will be keeping my eyes peeled.

Of course, I’m reading all this on the public mailing lists.  I have no doubt there are other discussions happening that mean I may have misinterpreted some of what is going on, but I don’t think my summary is unduly unfair on anyone.  Following what is going on is made a little more difficult because many of the email addresses used in the discussion are @gmail.com, so affiliations aren’t always entirely clear.

[Update: today’s court hearing reached no decision and a further hearing will be held on Friday August 13th. AFRINIC’s accounts remain frozen.]

By Rob

Just another network engineer that enjoys motorcycles and travelling.