Maasai consider trademarking their cultural ‘brand’

The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania are looking into trademarking their culture to benefit from the lucrative Maasai ‘brand’.

With the help of the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI), Maasai elders have started a debate about exploitation of the name by multinationals including Land Rover, Louis Vuitton and Masai Barefoot Technology.

Hundreds of thousands of the estimated three million Maasai living in East Africa are already aware of the initiative and its organisers aim to raise this figure significantly over the coming years.

For MIPI’s chair, Isaac ole Tialolo, respect for cultural values is just as important as getting a fair cut of the profits.

He told the BBC: “I think people need to understand the culture of others and respect it.”

The bid to protect the Maasai name has drawn worldwide interest and support.

Lord Boateng of the UK House of Lords, who co-chairs the African IP Trust, says the balance of power is changing. “Africa is taking charge of its destiny with IP Value Capture. It is a venture about empowerment in the marketplace.”

The African IP Trust was set up by Light Years IP to protect the interests of African farmers and producers who export goods to international markets.

The Maasai’s cause is outside the usual parameters of the IP protection laws and some advocate a voluntary agreement, such as the one used by Australia’s Aboriginal people, as a more effective model.


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