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Battle for millions of African IP addresses turns nasty

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 31 Aug 2022

The fight for African internet protocol (IP) addresses between AFRINIC, the regional internet registry for Africa, and its member Cloud Innovation has turned nasty.

The organisations are engaged in a legal tussle over the assignment of IP addresses on the continent.

UPDATE:

After publication of this story, Cloud Innovation sent a statement to ITWeb claiming that “media outlets should be aware that advertorials and press notices issued in the name of AFRINIC are unauthorised”. Please see the section below titled: Cloud Innovation responds to AFRINIC, for the full statement from Cloud Innovation.

Based in Mauritius, AFRINIC is a not-for-profit organisation responsible for the distribution and management of internet numbers (IPv4, IPv6 addresses and autonomous system numbers) for Africa and the Indian Ocean.

Serving more than 2 000 organisations in the public, private and academic sectors, AFRINIC says it contributes to the development of the African internet through the “equitable distribution of internet numbers, technical support and capacity-building of African policy-makers and engineers in the field of internet technology and governance”.

In July, AFRINIC’s bank accounts were reportedly frozen by the Supreme Court of Mauritius when it moved to confiscate millions of IP addresses from Cloud Innovation, also based in Mauritius.

The regional internet registry had accused Cloud Innovation of misuse of the IP addresses that were assigned to it. It was also alleged Cloud Innovation was assigning IP addresses to Chinese entities rather than African organisations.

Cloud Innovation then sued AFRINIC and won the court case.

The Supreme Court of Mauritius ruled that in its attempt to deny Cloud Innovation access to justice, AFRINIC illegally withdrew its own unconditional undertaking given in court to terminate the registration service agreement (RSA) with Cloud Innovation.

According to Cloud Innovation, the dispute arose when AFRINIC accused Cloud Innovation of having purportedly breached the RSA with it.

Cloud Innovation’s founder is Chinese entrepreneur Heng Lu.

Launching counterattack

Yesterday, AFRINIC issued a statement saying Cloud Innovation was in “serious breach of contract” and that it wants to “set the record straight”.

“AFRINIC strikes back following the publication of erroneous and defamatory information in various media in Mauritius by the management of Cloud Innovation,” says the registry.

“The latter has indeed, through those publications, been insinuating unethical practices and lack of professionalism on the part of AFRINIC, which is why the regional internet registry for Africa and the Indian Ocean deems it necessary to set the record straight for the benefit of its members, public officials and the public in general.”

According to AFRINIC, an extensive investigation has revealed the majority of the sample of IP addresses allocated to Cloud Innovation are being used for hosting websites connected to child pornography, illegal gambling and illegal streaming of copyrighted material.

It adds that Cloud Innovation has been allocated 6.2 million IPv4 addresses by AFRINIC, following needs expressed by the company for the region.

The use of these resources is governed by an RSA signed by Cloud Innovation, says the not-for-profit organisation.

“In June 2020, AFRINIC, in accordance with the provisions governing the allocation of IP addresses, drew the attention of Cloud Innovation to the breaches of its RSA and asked for explanations. In March 2021, noting that the identified breaches had not been remedied, AFRINIC initiated the contractual procedures stipulated in the RSA,” says Eddy Kayihura, CEO of AFRINIC.

“Instead of collaborating, Cloud Innovation chose to initiate legal proceedings against AFRINIC.”

As of now, Kayihura notes, Heng Lu and associates have entered over 25 lawsuits against AFRINIC before the Supreme Court of Mauritius.

He explains the litigation is mainly linked to the legitimate decision of AFRINIC to investigate the usage of the IP addresses allocated to Cloud Innovation based on evidence that the RSA has been violated and the IP addresses are being used beyond the contractual scope.

“As for the information pertaining to the use of the majority of the sample of IP addresses allocated to Cloud Innovation for hosting websites connected to illegal activities, this already forms part of AFRINIC’s case before the Supreme Court, and the matter is still pending,” says Kayihura.

Upholding integrity

In terms of the common practice adopted by all regional internet registries, AFRINIC says it has provisions that determine how IP resources that are issued to its resource members must be used.

“AFRINIC is the internet registry for addresses allocated to Africa – with IPv4 being a finite and presently a scarce resource, and the share allocated to Africa being less than 6% of the global resources. The issue of protecting and distributing this resource in Africa with integrity is therefore non-negotiable,” says AFRINIC.

“This further underscores AFRINIC’s mission and why we must do everything possible to ensure things are done with integrity within the established parameters,” Kayihura adds.

“This is the mandate of every internet registry in the world. As such, AFRINIC, being the custodian of the internet number resources assigned to it, has at all times the mission to ensure a fair and equitable management of these scarce resources on which the internet penetration in Africa is hinged.

“We are more determined than ever to continue to play a leading role in the sustainable digital transformation and socio-economic development of Africa. And we intend to do so by affirming our integrity and our unwavering dedication to the African community,” concludes Kayihura.

AFRINIC adds it strongly condemns all public attempts by Cloud Innovation and its associates which have for effect to cause reputational harm to it as the regional internet registry for Africa and accordingly, “it reserves the right to take such legal actions as it may be advised”.

ITWeb reached out to Cloud Innovation for further comment, but this was not received by the time of publication.

Cloud Innovation responds to AFRINIC

Since the publication of this story, Cloud Innovation has sent a statement to ITWeb alleging AFRINIC is currently unable to operate as it does not have a board of directors and its CEO has been suspended by the courts in Mauritius.

“Therefore, any public statement issued by AFRINIC is not authorised by the directors or members and has been issued by unauthorised individuals claiming to act on behalf of the organisation. These individuals are in contempt of court,” it states.

It adds that individuals who unlawfully claim to represent AFRINIC alleged Cloud Innovation was attempting to “undermine the image and reputation of the internet registry for Africa”.

A spokesperson for Cloud Innovation says: “It is in the public interest that evidence of AFRINIC’s unlawful activities are made public. Attempts by AFRINIC to close down legitimate investigating and reporting of allegations against them goes against the principles of the freedom of media. Attempts by AFRINIC, their representatives and those who unlawfully claim to represent them to intimidate individuals and organisations who provide evidence of unlawful activity will be resisted. Multiple individuals, companies and NGOs are exercising their legal right to expose corruption and other unlawful activity by AFRINIC.”

ITWeb has since seen the legal documents related to this matter.

The company adds that in response to numerous organisations and individuals whistleblowing against AFRINIC, the Seychelles-based company Cloud Innovation has been targeted by individuals with historic links to AFRINIC via a public attack in a desperate attempt to intimidate and stop those exposing the actions of those individuals and AFRINIC.

Individuals claiming to speak in the name of AFRINIC are making misleading and libellous claims against the organisation in hosting websites containing illegal content, including images of child pornography, gambling and broadcast content, it notes.

“Individuals claiming to represent AFRINIC made these inaccurate claims via media outlets despite knowing that Cloud Innovation is an IP management service provider, which does not provide hosting service of any kind. Its customers are ISP and telecom firms that are hosting millions of websites on Cloud Innovation's IP range. Such a hosting service does not give Cloud Innovation the legal right to police any of their content on millions of sites across 60 different jurisdictions.

“Cloud Innovation’s customers are solely relying on reporting from third-parties such as law enforcement agents, and others such as AFRINIC, to act against illegal content.”

It adds that despite numerous requests, AFRINIC have failed to report the websites of concern and therefore been reported to authorities in the US and Mauritius for aiding and abetting illegal online content.

It points out that the unlawful advertorial placed in the name of AFRINIC also refers to 25 lawsuits against them.

“The unauthorised representatives claiming to represent AFRINIC failed to make clear that the Supreme Court of Mauritius ruled that these lawsuits were fair and reasonable in response to the actions of AFRINIC.

“The former CEO of AFRINIC, Mr Eddy Kayihura, has been suspended in his role by the Supreme Court. AFRINIC does not have a board of directors. This means that AFRINIC are not authorised to undertake any activities – with the exception of paying staff and other basic business running costs. Businesses and individuals asked to undertake any activities by Mr Eddy Kayihura or his staff or agents should be aware that they are unauthorised to instruct work or enter into contracts. Any contracts entered into with AFRINIC will be subject to potential legal review in the courts of Mauritius with payment restrictions.

“Businesses and individuals who choose to work with or contract with AFRINIC do so at their own risk, and should be aware they may be subject to legal proceedings. Media outlets should be aware that advertorials and press notices issued in the name of AFRINIC are unauthorised and that any further communication from AFRINIC is not authorised and should be considered fake until such time as a board of directors and new CEO is appointed via free and fair elections.

“Businesses, individuals, members of staff and agents of AFRINIC who have further examples or concerns of ongoing unlawful activity by suspended CEO Eddy Kayihura, officials and staff of AFRINIC or those acting on behalf of AFRINIC are considered whistle-blowers and are able to provide evidence in strict confidence via Cloud Innovation’s Mauritius-based lawyers, Appleby. Any concerns of immediate unlawful activity by AFRINIC can also be referred to the police, foreign embassies (if the concerns relate to AFRINIC’s activities internationally), or in the case of concerns around money-laundering and proceeds of crime via the Financial Services Commission.”

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