The question we must ask ourselves is for how many decades has the Maasai shuka been with us without us fully commercializing and exploiting it? Louis Vuitton’s appropriation of the shuka should be a wake-up call for us. The truth of the matter is that there are many aspects of our traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions that are already in the public domain and thus cannot be patented or copyrighted because they belong to some or all Kenyans. However there still exists widespread unfair exploitation of our cultural heritage by outsiders for commercial and business interests and this cannot be allowed to continue. Our government argues that the intellectual property (IP) system (patents, trademarks, copyright, industrial design etc.) only serves to protect private and corporate property but not the collective heritage of the past, present and future generations of local communities. Therefore they want us to develop a unique (‘sui generis’) legal framework for protecting our traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.

Kiondos, Kikoys and Shukas: Intellectual Property Protection in Kenya