Zimbabwean Activist Creates Petition Against Disney's 'Hakuna Matata' Trademark
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Zimbabwean Activist Creates Petition Against Disney's 'Hakuna Matata' Trademark

People might have forgotten this, but Disney has a U.S. trademark for the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata,” made famous in the States by The Lion King. The trademark was filed in 1994, around the same time as the animated movie. But now that the CG reboot of the film is coming to theaters next year, the light has been shown once again on the tricky trademark of an everyday phrase.

According to Deadline, Zimbabwean activist Shelton Mpala has created a Change.org petition taking on the corporation and its trademark of the phrase.

“‘Hakuna Matata’ is a Swahili language phrase from East Africa; translate, it means ‘no trouble,'” wrote Mpala in his Change.org petition. “…Hakuna Matata has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Ugana, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent.”

“While we respect Disney as an entertainment institution responsible for creating many of our childhood memories, the decision to trademark ‘Hakuna Matata’ is predicated purely on greed and is an insult not only the spirit of the Swahili people but also, Africa as a whole,” he continued, calling the trademark “an assault on the Swahili people and Africa as a whole.”

“At a time when divisiveness has taken over the world, one would think re-releasing a movie that celebrates unlikely friendships, acceptance and unity, Disney would make a decision goes completely against these values.”

The petition is about to hit its goal of 150,000 signatures.

Sadly, this is not the company’s first attempt to do so; in 2013, during the early development stage of the film that would become Coco, Disney tried to trademark “Day of the Dead.” Naturally, this angered many in the Latino community, with prominent artists and creatives speaking out against the move. Disney later recruited some of those staunch critics to become part of its cultural consultant team to show it’d learned its lesson. Or so it would seem.

Back in November, around the time the CG Lion King trailer was released, Business Daily’s Cathy Mputhia wrote about the “Hakuna Matata” trademark and how it provides a lesson for African nations to protect their culture from corporations seeking to make money from them.

“The first is the need to have a structured framework to protect our national and regional heritage,” she wrote. “Kiswahili is spoken throughout EAC, and it would be unreasonable for one particular country to claim ownership of the language. However, some words form part of our heritage and ought to be protected where possible.”

“It is unfortunate that there has been a lot of pilferage of African culture over the years, through the use of intellectual property rights,” she continued, adding that to protect African cultures, it might be important “for the relevant governments or communities to apply for expungement of already granted trademarks.”

Mputhia called the “Hakuna Matata” trademark incident “a wake-up call for the EAC to work on the EAC identity and the EAC marks so as to protect jointly owned regional heritage.” It should also be a point of backlash against Disney to show that trademarking parts of a region’s heritage is highly unethical.


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