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Swahili Speakers Claim ‘Robbery’ As Disney Trademarks ‘Hakuna Matata’

By Sharelle Burt

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Disney may be in a little bit of trouble. After trademarking the infamous ‘Hakuna Matata’ phrase from The Lion King, a new petition a surfaced accusing the company of “robbery and colonialism.”

The Swahili term means “no problem” or “no worries” as we were taught as kids from Timon and Pumbaa. While it was funny when we were children, to the people in Africa, it’s no laughing matter. Zimbabwean activist and creator of the petition Shelton Mpala is hoping he can get Disney to dissolve the trademark.

“A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked, they had no idea this was happening,” Mpala said. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I always had an understanding that a culture’s language was its richness.” Disney first applied for a trademark in 1994, when the animated film was first released. Mpala believes the trademark is just another way for Africa to be “exploited in some shape, fashion or form.”

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The Lion King has been a Disney fan favorite for decades. Teaching valuable life lessons to children who are now adults, the franchise expanded into an award-winning musical on Broadway, merchandise  including T-shirts and toys, computer games, not to mention numerous sequels and spin-offs.

Under the trademark law, no one is allowed to use the phrase for commercial purposes. Once news of the trademark made headlines, plenty of African news outlets and supporters sided with Mpala, tweeting their disappointment and wondering how the phrase can be trademarked, to begin with. Others looked at it as an opportunity on which the African nation just missed out.


RELATED: Nigeria Wants Stolen Artifacts, British Say They’ll ‘Loan Them Back’

Disney isn’t the first high-profile trademark case to go against African socialities. Back in 2011, late Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe squabbled with rapper 50 Cent over the name of his film ‘Things Fall Apart,’ the name of Achebe’s 1958 novel. 50 initially offered to pay $1 million to hold on to the title but he eventually conceded and changed the film’s name to ‘All Things Fall Apart.’

To date, the ‘Hakuna Matata’ petition has close to 200,000 signatures.

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