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Commentary

 

Why Weep for Kikoi?

Sibling rivalry does not confine itself to the domain of family and psychology. A child bully will cheat his sibling to throw away a piece of bread under the pretext that it has a cockroach. Bang! He will pick and devour it to his fill! Have you ever thought about the products (music, medicinal and agricultural, among others) that we have lost over the years due to our fear to explore that which is African?

We have been taught the 'fact' that the majority of us live on less than a dollar a day; we are in a poor continent (despite all the resources that are causing wars as wealthy nations search for mining rights) and that unless some benevolent do-gooder cracks us out of the vicious cycle of poverty, we will never hatch to prosperity.

We then set out to the street to beg for gold, clad in a 'kikoi' and a 'kiondo,' ignoring our inbuilt productivity. After getting hooked to the 'free bread' from donors, we wake up one day to be told that we cannot put on the 'kikoi' without permission from some bright chaps that commercialized it. Wow!

'Kikoi,' a traditional wrap popular at the coast, hit headlines recently following an attempt by The Kikoy Company UK Ltd to register the word 'kikoy'. Tears are yet to dry over the alleged stealing of the 'Kiondo' whose copyright is protected under Japanese patent. The debate on the 'stealing' of Kikoy by the British raises an urgent question as to whether African elites have grasped how the global economy operates.

Not long ago, developed countries' civil society groups working in cahoots with local African non governmental organizations staged protests all over the world against issues to do with intellectual property rights. They argued that patents and intellectual property right regimes in general deny Africans essential medicines. In 2001 and 2002, the debate on access to anti-retroviral drugs for HIV-AIDS victims was used as the billboard bashing for huge pharmaceutical companies. It was further argued that intellectual property rights acted as a serious obstacle to trade and transfer of technologies.

The Kenya anti-intellectual property rights proponents faced a home grown challenge when a dispute broke out between the University of Nairobi medical college and Oxford University Medical Research Center scientists over an AIDS vaccine that had jointly been developed.

Away from medicine to fashion, British scientists were on the spot over patenting of a microbe that gives jeans a faded look, from Lake Bogoria. Last year, Tanzanians were treated to a rude shock when they discovered that a modified plant from Usambara Mountain Range, impatiens usambarensis was fetching millions of dollars as 'Trailing Busy Lizzie' office flower.

To protect our heritage, we must first get rid of the myth that we lack the ability to fix our own problems and seek to add value to what we already posses. We must take advantage of our interaction with developed societies to learn the rule of the game by engaging our intellectuals to offer solutions to our needs. Developed-countries' scientists are working hard to respond to challenges facing them in their home countries and like siblings; they are busy 'cheating' us to throw away our bread.

The Kenya Industrial Property Institute along with other relevant organizations should actively educate Kenyans on issues of property protection for commercial use. Protection for the sake of protection will equally be counterproductive as illustrated by the many idle pieces of land dotted all over the country whose owners are unable to make them fluid enough for commercial value. Weep not for 'kikoi' if you still hold the attitude that you have nothing to offer to yourself and the World!

This article first appeared in Business Daily, a publication of the Nation Media Group



By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network


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