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New push to compel Walt Disney drop “Hakuna Matata” trademark

By HILARY KIMUYU December 19th, 2018 2 min read

A petition calling for Walt Disney to release its trademark on the words “Hakuna Matata” has attracted more than 40,000 signatures from people calling it cultural appropriation of the Swahili language.

A decision by the American Company to trademark the phrase “Hakuna Matata” which was popularised in their ‘Lion King’ film has drawn ire online.

Zimbabwean activist Shelton Mpala launched an online petition seeking to have Walt Disney Company drop its trademark for the popular Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata.”


In a petition that has since garnered close to 40,000 signatures, Mpala describes Disney’s decision to trademark the Swahili phrase as “colonialism and robbery.”

“Join us and say NO to DISNEY or any corporations/individuals looking to trademark languages, terms or phrases they didn’t invent,” says Mpala in his petition.

He adds: “If we were to go that route, then we owe the British royalties for everyone who speaks English, or France for when we speak French.”

The California-based entertainment company first applied for the trademark for the phrase in 1994 and was approved in 2001 by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) under registration number 27006605 for use on clothing.

“Hakuna Matata” is a Swahili phrase which translates to ‘no worries’ in English and has widely been used in Kenya and other Kiswahili-speaking countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and DRC.

The phrase was popularized in 1984 by a Kenyan band ‘Them Mushrooms’ in their popular song ‘Jambo Bwana’ which is still used to welcome tourists into the country.


In an interview with BBC, Mpala says, “A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked, they had no idea this was happening. Growing up in Zimbabwe, I always had an understanding that a culture’s language was its richness.

At the time of writing, the petition has garnered more than 42,000 signatures and continues to grow.

In late November 2018, Disney released the first trailer for its live-action remake of the classic story, which sees a young prince lion go into exile after the death of his father.

He returns only when he finds out his murderous uncle, Scar, has led his father’s kingdom to ruin.

Since its debut in 1994, ‘The Lion King’ has become an incredibly popular venture for Disney, which includes a hit Broadway play, toys and clothing, games and several film sequels and spin-offs.