Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Cameroon, Niger and Ethiopia Making a Domainer Millions

Making money off of Cameroonian domain typosThis is one of those interesting stories that just begs to be told. A young doctor decides to get into the domain buying business, and makes millions. He’s smart, makes some very strategic moves and then goes for even bigger money.

Kevin Ham is valued at over $300 million. He made his fortune putting pay-per-click ads on the thousands of websites that he owns. His latest venture is with the Cameroonian government, who happen to have the ending of .cm in their domain. Kevin is looking at brokering deals with Niger (ending in .ne) and Ethiopia (ending in .et) as well.

Ham makes money every time someone clicks on an ad — as does his partner in this venture, the West African country of Cameroon. Why Cameroon? It has the unforeseen good fortune of owning .cm as its country code — just as Germany runs all names that end with .de.

The difference is that hardly any .cm names are registered, and the letters are just one keyboard slip away from .com, the mother lode of all domains. Ham landed connections to the Cameroon government and flew in his people to reroute the traffic. And if he gets his way, Colombia (.co), Oman (.om), Niger (.ne), and Ethiopia (.et) will be his as well.

Read the full story.


  1. Urrgggg!

    These stories hurt my feeling! I’ve looked into this before, but I was too late to the game. Plus, I really think, like Ham, you have to be able to write up software that can snatch up and decipher the good names (this is the most crucial element to one’s success) – you’ve either got to know how to write the software yourself or you have to pay someone to do it for you.

    Are you familiar with this software? and if so, do you know whether it can be purchased cheaply or learnt easily?

    Great link.

  2. Funny place the world has become. Think I will retire into the desert when I get too old to blog.
    Then I don’t have to see for my own eyes when people like Ham sends a bunch of people to countries like Niger in order to expand their own (already amply sufficient) wealth.

    Oh I am so impressed with the Western World and the “advances” that modern technology has led to!

    Or maybe not…

    Greetings from Niger!

  3. It is frustrating to look at someone create all of this wealth in what looks like such an easy way. It makes you say, “why didn’t I think of that!?”

    KE, I’m not sure if the type of software that they use is commonly available, I would guess not since it’s part of their competitive advantage.

    You should read Mike Davidson’s lessons on how to snag an expired domain name. VERY interesting read.

  4. Erggg,This is child abuse, no really, Camroon and Cameroonians( private or public sector) really look childish right about now , Look at the opportunity that just got snatched right under their very eyes. How come you had to wait for a foreign investors in this time and age ( 40 years ago could be understable) to wake up to a great opportunity? The good people of Cameroon could not see discover this lucrative opportunity on their own. When I think that the same Africans claim on each other forums to be the smartest of them all.
    Where are all the multiple PHDs and Masters holders populating western universities and talking about saving Africa. I am very certain that they are plenty of IT guys from Cameroon present in all aspect of the IT industry .
    Kudos to this smart businessman, he has been on his grind for many years and he deserved every penny he has been geeting and is about to get.
    African entrepreneurs/creative people need to keep their eye open and be very effective sizing up the different opportunities that will impact positively their markets and communities.

    This is Do or Die, Either the African community will begin doing what is necessary or they will die letting foreigners enjoy their labor( slavery,colonialism) their ressources ( oil,gold,diamond etc..) Their financial markets ( Banking & stock markets) their disasters ( Famine,diseases,wars are the livelihood of many a western entity )and now their IT networks

  5. If I read the article correctly, it said that the first guy, Yun Ye, was a software engineer — so I can see how he was able to design his own program.

    The main guy mentioned, Mike Ham is not a programmer. He’s a doctor (while still smart) the article does say that the taught himself how to do it, so how hard can the programming be? I’m sure they’re books on the topic and maybe I need to look for them.

    Cameron must be far behind kenya in terms of it’s internet access and telecommunications system in general. I doubt Ham would be able to swing that in Kenya.

  6. Me personally, I don’t see anything wrong with what happened here. It looks like it was a matter of Ham and his company doing what they did best and Camtel (Cameroon doing what they do best, which is to govern, I would presume).

    I mentioned this on my site, because to me it illustrates how technology can equalize the playing field-so to speak. Ok, Cameroon did not have the programmers who were able to come up with it, but in the end they still benefitted from technology which they would not have done, had the technology not existed.

    The only, concern that I have is why did it have to be the government, why couldn’t an entrepreneur from Cameroon been involved? Anywho, those are just my thoughts.

    Nice one, Hash!

  7. Quite an old problem (August 2006 indeed),

    One day, some blogs (like this one here announced that Cameroon has begun typosquatting)

    It has lead to a so huge problem in the country that Camtel temporarly suspend it, and put it again after people forget about it.

    Now, it re-comes!

    I would agree with Benin, but as I discuss at that time with some Camtel’s back-office administrators friends of mine, it *seems* that the money involved never reach the Camtel bank account.
    It disappears even before reaching Cameroon, Camtel nor Cameroon benefits of it !

    Why deal with a vancouver compaby when there are many (yes, many) cameroonians able to set up a Google Adsense website, and write a simpel script to redirect all .cm domains toward that website ?

    The money never reach Cameroon…the Prime Minister is involved only because there is money to dispatch.

    Cameroon is my country, we understand all what it is about.

  8. As a Cameroonian IT professional, I find it distasteful that someone is allowed to come to my country and take over a TLD simply because they have the money to buy off officials. Mr. Ham who is so disrespectful goes on to say he will only visit the nation if the president invites him. He’s is however happy to make millions from Cameroon and give nothing to the people in return.

    In many other countries it would be near impossible or illegal to buy a national domain unless you were a legal resident or citizen let alone become such a monopoly in what Mr. Ham describes as “a small part of our operation”.

    The average Cameroonian cannot afford a .CM domain name because they cost between $300 well over $1,000 per year in some cases, while one can easily get a .com, .ca or .co.uk extension for less than $10 today.

    It is no doubt that shoddy deals like this have kept prices high so much that 90% or more Cameroonians will never own or operate a .CM domain name.

    Senior Cameroonian government officials, diplomats, and business executives, etc, use yahoo, hotmal and other free webmail services which carry a huge risks because of confidential national issues being hosted on these free webmail services. Local ISPs cannot justify forking out the insane prices for their own national domain names.

    Could you imagine the average American paying $300 to $1,000 or more for a domain name per year? How many would host websites today or have an online business. The average Cameroonian resident earns less than $100 month, and given the impact of the Internet as tool for empowerment, Mr. Ham is providing a disservice to the people of Cameroon and other similarly exploited nation. You can own a 10million dollar SUN mainframe and best looking website on earth, but if you don’t have a domain name to pull in the traffic, then it’s all worth nothing.

    When I read a statement like “He won’t disclose how much he pays to the government of Cameroon, whose officials could not be reached for comment.”, I get a sick feeling in my stomach because these are the kind people who are holding back Internet development back in Cameroon and there’s no moral justification for this. They know they can go in pay corrupt officials with total disregard for the citizenry.
    There are thousands of frustrated Cameroonian technology entrepreneurs like me who are not even granted any audience with our national leaders to engage or participate in national growth and development from an Internet standpoint, yet people like Mr. Ham’s lap dogs are received like royalty. We have extremely talented Cameroonian IT professionals and I personally know many who have tried to work to improve the domain registration process, drive down costs and improve the service but attempts have fallen on deaf ears, most likely because of private deals signed with people like Mr. Ham.

    Mr. Ham can rejoice in his millions but he should understand the short to long term impact of his “investments” in Cameroon as small as they may seem to him. How can anyone own a patent on a nation’s TLD or what he calls his “Cameroon trick”?

    The growth of developing nations isn’t always hampered by some Oil company’s waste dump in local rivers or some Blood diamond price fixer. People like Mr. Ham have a moral obligation to make their activities transparent and not under the table deals that affect millions of Cameroonian lives. I would love to see him give something back to the Cameroonian community.

    I thank Paul Sloan for writing this article and bringing this issue to light. There are many Cameroonians together with other developing nations that are exploited in this way and this article will expose these kinds of activities.

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