In a continent where less than five people out of ten are connected to the internet, many of us may not know much, if at all, about the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC). But we should pay more attention. Afrinic is the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for Africa responsible for the allocation and management of Internet Protocol numbers that identify each device – computer, tablet, smartphone, etc – connected to the web. The numbers, to remind ourselves, are categorised in internet protocol version 4 (IPv4) which is currently being exhausted in Africa and around the world, even as uptake is continuing of the updated IPv6. The shift between the two versions is to enable the expansion of the digital space as need for the internet as a resource for human development has kept growing. This means that any hitch in the transition could delay benefits for RIRs that lag behind. For this reason, it has been of concern that Afrinic has lately been experiencing a crisis that could potentially derail Africa’s development agenda, including development of the internet in the continent. The crisis might appear fairly innocuous, arising from a contractual dispute that could amicably be arbitrated. Except for a court decision that has crippled Afrinic’s day-to-day operations. In July 23, 2021, the Supreme Court of Mauritius, the country the organisation is registered and operates, froze up to US$ 50 million of its funds. The freeze arose from a prayer to the court by the aggrieved party, Cloud Innovation, a company registered in the Seychelles by a Chinese-based internet developer. For reasons for space, a more detailed look at the issues behind the crisis can be gleaned from an in-depth analysis by the Internet Governance Project. But these are the broad outlines of the lawsuit. An audit by AFRINIC discovered that a significant number of a block of nearly 7 million IPv4 addresses acquired by Cloud Innovations in 2016 were leased outside the continent, mostly in China. Afrinic claimed policy and agreement violation by Cloud, maintaining that the IP addresses were restricted and meant for lease only in Africa. Cloud disagreed, arguing that restrictions for the IP addresses applied only in the period after March 2017 when the AFRINIC’s “soft landing” policy went into effect. This was in reference to the agreed dates within the Afrinic framework to exhaust the IPv4 address space even as the IPv6 protocol is adopted. In the back and forth that the dispute entailed, Afrinic threatened to revoke Cloud’s service agreement, stating in a March 2021 letter that “Afrinic shall not be held liable for any loss or damage of whatever nature arising out of the present notice or any action that Afrinic may take in accordance thereof.” That is when Cloud Innovations went to court, of which there are a total of 11 lawsuits, including one claiming reputational damages amounting to a hefty $1.8 billion. It is mainly due to this claim for damages that the Mauritius court provisionally froze the US$ 50 million Afrinic’s funds, affecting the operations of thousands of other service providers the organisation is responsible for. The Internet Governance Project views this as unduly excessive and terms it “legal terrorism” on the part of Cloud, as the lawsuits appear designed to destroy Afrinic rather than to preserve Cloud’s legitimate business interests in a contractual dispute. The Project is also puzzled why the court should freeze all the assets of Afrinic based on assertions of reputational damage still to be proven in court, given the threat to the organisation’s day to day operations. The cases are ongoing, however. And as Afrinic is mounting its rebuttal to the lawsuits, it is hoped the dispute will be resolved to each party’s satisfaction, and particularly for the imperative of internet development in Africa. But the lawsuit raises questions worth pondering, as articulated by the Internet Project. If AFRINIC doesn’t come through, they wonder, how will the IP number resources in the region then devolve? Will the assets be divided among shareholders – and who are they? And what will happen to the unallocated reserved IP addresses?