Last week I wrote an article about how a US Company is trying to patent the word ‘matooke’. Hardly five days have passed and a new trademark dispute has caught global attention which I choose to call ‘The Tale of Disney and Hakuna Matata’.
Trademark disputes do not often make global headlines but when they do, they instigate outrage and public debate. We do not have to look far for a recent example, in 2011 there was a dispute between widely acclaimed African novelist Chinua Achebe and US Rapper Curtis Jackson alias ’50 Cent’ over the use of the phrase ‘ Things Fall Apart’. The aforementioned phrase although originates from W.B.Yeats poem ‘The Second Coming’ is the title of Chinua Achebe’s famous novel which was first published in 1958. 50 Cent sought to use the phrase as a title for his upcoming movie then. Chinua Achebe brought a law suit against him seeking an injunction to block the usage of the phrase without prior permission. 50 Cent was fain to acknowledge that he was wrongfully using the phrase, he therefore opted to negotiate a settlement of 1 million dollars but this was rubbished by the author. To cut the long story short, he eventually settled for ‘All Things Fall Apart’. What this example demonstrates, I think, is how the West is trying to buy off Africa’s heritage and culture. They are taking advantage of our vulnerability with the ultimate aim of making profits to our detriment. This raises questions; Are we willing to sell? What is the price tag, is it 1 million dollars? Certainly not, our culture and heritage are priceless! We owe it to those who came before us to protect it with our lives.
Getting back to the main story, the words Hakuna Matata are loosely translated to mean “no problem” or “no worries” in Swahili, a language spoken in East Africa. I can’t say enough how important these two words are to the people of Kenya. For a kid who grew up listening to Them Mushroom’s song ” Hakuna Matata” ( released in 1980s), it would be absurd to tell such a person that they are now barred from using the words because of some foolish trademark.
In an interview with NPR, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o laments that he is “horrified” by Disney’s claim on the phrase. He says that it would be like trademarking ‘good morning’ or ‘it is raining cats and dogs’ in the case of English. He further adds that “it’s a common phrase we use every other day. No company can own it”.
As an African, I feel disheartened when I read in the papers or watch on TV that a European or American company is trying to patent an African name. If we do not put an end to this robbery (for lack of a better word), a few decades from now, we shall lose our identity. I therefore applaud the efforts of noble men and women like Shelton Mpala who has lead the way by organising a public petition on change.org with the ultimate aim of obtaining 75,000 signatures to stop the US Company. The last time I checked, over 55,000 signatures had been collected. What are you waiting for? The BBC reports that the petition accuses Disney of “colonialism and robbery” for trademarking the phrase used in The Lion King. I can’t agree more!
But I must quickly add that in as much as it’s convenient to blame these companies for attempting to steal our heritage. We are equally guilty of perpetrating the robbery because of our inadvertent failure to promote and develop our own entertainment industry. If this is done, problems such as this one will not arise again.
SAY NO TO DISNEY!