Upwards of 70,000 people have signed petition urging Disney to drop their trademark of ‘hakuna matata’ from The Lion King, accusing the company of “colonialism and robbery”.

The expression means ‘no problem’ or ‘no worries’ in Swahili, a language spoken in several East African countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and D.R. Congo. ‘Hakuna matata’ was popularised in 1982 by the Kenyan band Them Mushrooms, whose platinum-selling single ‘Jambo Bwana (Hello, Mister)’ featured the phrase. It was later featured in Disney’s 1994 animation The Lion King, which spawned a hit musical and has since became one of Disney’s most lucrative franchises.

Disney was granted an American trademark for the expression way back in 2003, which protects the use of the phrase on clothing and footwear.

The petition, created by Shelton Mpala earlier this month, comes a few months before Disney relaunches The Lion King as a live-action re-make in July 2019, which features Beyonce, Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor as voice actors and directed by Jon Favreau.

Explaining his reasoning, Mpala accused the company of appropriation. “Disney can’t be allowed to trademark something that it didn’t invent,” he said. “I liken this to colonialism and robbery, the appropriation of something you have no right over. Imagine, 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’.”

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The trademark is still active, and means that Disney can sue other companies that use ‘hakuna matata’ on T-shirts. However, it doesn’t allow them to sue people who use the phrase in everyday speech.

The Lion KingThe original film came out in 1994

Professor Kimani Njogu, who heads an organisation aiming to advance cultural and linguistic rights in Kenya, suggested Disney’s trademark was unethical and backed Mpala’s petition.

“These big companies located in the north are taking advantage of cultural expressions and lifestyles and cultural goods coming from Africa,” Professor Njogu said. “They know very well that this expression is really the people’s property, created by people, popularised by people.”

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