Originally composed in Kiswahili, Kenya’s national language, it was prepared by local people and based on a traditional tune sung by Pokomo mothers to their children. The national anthem is played during national holidays and during other important or historical events.
Kenya’s national anthem composed in 1963 has since acquired a global status and is now akin to being the world’s national anthem thanks to Kenya’s legendary athletes who with every international competition keep lifting the Kenyan flag higher and higher.
It came as a shock, therefore, early this week to many patriotic Kenyans that the country’s national anthem may actually no longer be Kenyan but a property of a British firm.
This came after a Kenyan YouTuber’s video ranking the continent’s best national anthems – which included Kenya’s – was flagged down over copyright infringement.
The content creator – who runs the ‘2nacheki’ channel – claimed he was informed that AdRev Publishing had registered the complaint on behalf of De Wolfe Music, a British company which, as it emerges, owns the rights to the Kenyan National Anthem.
In a statement released following the uproar, KECOBO has since acknowledged that “the government has copyright for its commissioned works for up to 50 years,” which, in the case of the National Anthem, reportedly lapsed in 2013 and was never reviewed.
“The National Anthem is over 50 years and has thus fallen into public domain. However, given the place of National Anthem in any country and the provisions of the National Flags, Emblems and Names Act (Cap 99 laws of Kenya) there is additional protection of the anthem against misuse and improper use,” read the statement.
“Under that Act, the use of the National Anthem, emblems, names and other similar symbols is restricted and its use shall be subject to written permission by the minister in charge of interior.”
The copyright body further noted that amendments needed to be made to the Copyright Act to ensure that the use of national symbols and government works remain subject to authorisation even where copyright expires.
“KECOBO is at the moment studying the terms and conditions in YouTube platform with a view to requesting for takedown of all content offending the National Anthem by the said company and others as well,” added the statement.
“In addition, there are consultations between KECOBO and relevant state departments on legal and administrative measures to prevent unauthorized copyright claim on the National Anthem now and in future.”
A search on De Wolfe’s website, however, reveals that they have only copyrighted an arrangement/instrumental of the Kenyan national anthem, as opposed to the one which had been published by ‘2nacheki’ in which there is an actual choir singing along.
This incident coming just months after it emerged late last year that American film production company Walt Disney had also copyrighted the Swahili phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’ it is understandable why Kenyans may be seething.