A petition calling on The Walt Disney Company to abandon its trademark of the Swahili phrase “Hakuna Matata” has amassed over 100,000 signatures.
Shelton Mpala, a native of Zimbabwe, said he called out Disney to push back against what he called the continual exploitation of Africa by global entities.
“A lot of Swahili speakers have been utterly shocked, they had no idea this was happening,” Mpala told the BBC. “Growing up in Zimbabwe, I always had an understanding that a culture’s language was its richness.”
In the Change.org petition, Mpala urged signees to “say no to Disney” because they didn’t create the phrase.
“’Hakuna Matata’ has been used by most Kiswahili-speaking countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” the plea stated. “Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent.”
According to the New York Post, Disney first applied for a trademark for the phrase in 1994, after the success of its classic film The Lion King. The request to register “Hakuna Matata” was approved in 2003, but the discussion has been reignited as the company prepares to release a live-action version of The Lion King next year.
Mpala, said while he respects the company, he believes they should abandon the trademark because it’s “predicated purely on greed and is an insult not only the spirit of the Swahili people but also, Africa as a whole.”
“The term ‘Hakuna Matata’ is not a Disney creation hence not an infringement on intellectual or creative property, but an assault on the Swahili people and Africa as a whole,” he explained on Change.org.
“It sets a terrible precedence and sullies the very spirit of the term to begin with,” Mpala argued. “At a time when divisiveness has taken over the world, one would think re-releasing a movie that celebrates the unlikely friendships, acceptance, and unity, Disney would make a decision that goes completely against these values.”