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Threat to Kenyan livelihoods is more than a battle of words

Date 7 Mar 2007
Author The Editor

Thousands of East Africans could lose their livelihoods – and the freedom to use a word from their language – if a trademark application by a UK company succeeds. The application, by the Kikoy Company UK Ltd, would give the company sole commercial rights to the term “kikoy” – a corruption of “kikoi”, the Kiswahili word for the distinctive colourful wrap skirts worn by men and women along the East African coast. Now, Traidcraft Exchange, the charitable arm of one of the UK’s leading fair trade organisations, supported by Newcastle-based solicitors Watson Burton, is leading an international coalition fighting the move and has filed opposition to the trademark application in the UK courts.

Rob Donnelly, Traidcraft Africa Programme Manager, said: “It’s outrageous that words and terms that are distinctive to a people, a culture and a language should be appropriated in this way merely to advance the naked self-interest of commercial organisations. “To deny them the use of the term will seriously harm their livelihoods and condemn many to greater poverty and destitution.”

Matthew Rippon, a solicitor in Watson Burton's Intellectual Property Team, said: “If this trademark application is granted, it will give the Kikoy Company UK Ltd an effective monopoly in terms of imports into the UK and potentially the whole EU, making it impossible for Kenyan traders to export to this valuable market save with the blessing of the Kikoy Company UK Ltd. “That is neither right nor fair.”

The multi-coloured striped cloth from which kikoys are made is also a popular choice for other clothes and household items such as shirts, hats, dressing gowns, trousers, cushion covers, rugs, throws and duvet covers. For more information contact Melissa Duncan at melissad or Matthew Rippon at matthew.rippon.

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