Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cultural Looting

Kikoi is a generic term for a 100% East African cotton hand-knitted cloth that was traditionally worn by men. It is a hot fashion trend now as ethnic style becomes more popular. As a fashion item, the beautiful and very versatile kikoi is used as a beach wrap, sarong, and as head wraps. The kikoi as a traditional household staple in Kenya is used for baby slings, curtains and other household items such as pillow coverings and, throws in addition to clothing.

The Kikoi is also an artistic expression of a region and its culture. Weaving and selling Kikoi to tourists is how many families in the region, primarily Kenya, earn a living. The arts and crafts sector is Kenya's second highest foreign exchange earner after agriculture and contributes around 18 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Culture constitutes a history system of core ideas shared by a society. The use of kikoi is part of Kenya’s cultural heritage and should be protected and preserved for future generations.

Kikoi should not be a region’s honest intellectual property up for grabs by any company or government to seize and economically benefit from the indigenous culture of another country at the expense of their livelihood.

Kenyan activists are fighting to retain cultural designs developed in East Africa but are being patented by companies in the UK, the United States and Japan. After losing the kiondo basket, a handmade sisal basket unique to Kenya to Japan, the popular kikoi fabric design is currently at risk of being patented by the Kikoy Company, a British company.
Kikoy Ltd filed an application to register the word Kikoi alone as a UK trademark on August 26, 2006. While raising the alarm in Nairobi on February 21, 2007, Kenya Industrial Property Institute, Managing Director, Prof James Odek, said Kenya had until February 22nd to oppose the application before the trademark application is granted in the UK. February 23rd was the final day to submit any opposition to the registration.

Granting the trademark to the UK firm would mean that Kenyans have to request permission from the UK firm to market kikoi items despite it being a traditional cloth in Kenya and the rest of the region. Should the patent by the Kikoy Company be granted it will result in losses in millions of shillings in income and jobs that provide hundreds of people in the region, particularly Kenya, who sell kikoi items the means to earn a living.

Cooperation for Fair Trade in Africa (COFTA), a Nairobi-based body of nongovernmental organizations, is challenging the Kikoy Company’s patent application for sole ownership of the trademark of the kikoi.

Trade and Industry Ministry Permanent Secretary David Nalo indicated that Kenya will do all within its means to block the Kikoy Company from registering 'Kikoi' as its trademark.
He said preliminary objections have already been filed seeking to block the moved the foreign company is taking to register the Kenya’s indigenous business concern as its sole trademark.

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