By ALAN SUDERMAN, FRANK BAJAK and RODNEY MUHUMUZA
November 23, 2021
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Outsiders have long profited from Africa’s riches of gold, diamonds, and even people. Digital resources have proven no different.
Millions of internet addresses assigned to Africa have been waylaid, some fraudulently, including through insider machinations linked to a former top employee of the nonprofit that assigns the continent’s addresses. Instead of serving Africa’s internet development, many have benefited spammers and scammers, while others satiate Chinese appetites for pornography and gambling.
New leadership at the nonprofit, AFRINIC, is working to reclaim the lost addresses. But a legal challenge by a deep-pocketed Chinese businessman is threatening the body’s very existence.
The businessman is Lu Heng, a Hong Kong-based arbitrage specialist. Under contested circumstances, he obtained 6.2 million African addresses from 2013 to 2016. That’s about 5% of the continent’s total — more than Kenya has.
AFRINIC made no claim of graft when it revoked Lu’s addresses, now worth about $150 million, saying his company was not adequately serving Africa’s interests. Lu fought back. His lawyers in late July persuaded a judge in Mauritius, where AFRICNIC is based, to freeze its bank accounts. His company also filed a $80 million defamation claim against AFRINIC and its new CEO.
It’s a shock to the global networking community, which has long considered the internet as technological scaffolding for advancing society. Some worry it could undermine the entire numerical address system that makes the internet work.