TV Seen! Shuga: A Sweet Solution?

As a part of their Staying Alive initiative, MTV now bring the drama series Shuga which is under MTV Ignite. MTV Ignite is a campaign in Kenya, Ukraine & Trinidad & Tobago which aims at creating awareness amongst youth on HIV/AIDS and changing their sexual behavior. The Shuga series is one of the TV programmes to launch the campaign and is aimed at the Kenyan youth market.
Set in modern-day Nairobi, Shuga follows the lives of a group of young Kenyans Skola (David Omwange), Ty (Pepe Haze), Ayira (Luipta Nyong’o), Sindi (Valerie Kimani), Violet (Sharon Olago), Virginia (Eva Kanyang’onda), Leo (Nicholas Mutuma) & Kennedy (Anthony Mwangi.) As it is a show specifically aimed at HIV/AIDs awareness, it mainly focuses on these young Kenyans’ sexual lives as they interact with each other.

Ayira is a beautiful and ambitious lady who wants to make it in the world give take her struggling mum and sister a good life. To achieve this she ends up getting intimately involved with Felix (Tumisho Masha) and she gets hired to his Maverick ad agency. The irresistible screen presence of Ayira and convincing acting from Felix make the pair the standouts of Shuga. There is an intense scene between them in Felix’s office after Ayira suspects he hasn’t told her everything about his past.  As Ayira threatens to quit Felix arrogantly declares “No one quits Maverick!” and Ayira’s reply “I’ll take my chances.” That’s not to say they are the only good actors, most of the actors deliver strong performances and Shuga has discovered new acting talents. Valerie Kimani who has been in Tusker Project Fame 1 and is currently impressing crowds with the Mo Faya musical is on her way to becoming a household name. In Shuga she plays a Sindo, a virgin who disapproves of her friends’ careless lifestyles. Due to her auntie’s death from AIDS she carries around condoms in her handbag to distribute to people.
Shuga although targeted to Kenyan youth, mostly features the lives of middle to upper class Nairobi youth. Take Ty who drives around in a 6-4(American 60s car) and Skola who owns the latest BMW, average Kenyan youth I don’t think so.  Due to the fact that it is about youth sexuality and HIV/AIDs Shuga features quite a number of intimate scenes, some quite heavy with a lot of lip-locking. This sometimes goes overboard though with Leo and Virginia who have just come from a worship session getting real frisky on the church steps. Though times are changing and there is more of this kind of stuff and Kenyan screens I wonder if it is really necessary. There is a lot of excitement and talk surrounding Shuga, but I am concerned many young Kenyans will receive this new drama series unquestioningly. It is bad enough statistics are showing Kenyans are sexually active and younger ages, now they will watch Shuga and think that, that is how Kenyan youth are all living. Of course risky behavior and sexual activity is a reality for many young Kenyans, but does that mean TV shows should be encouraging this lifestyle.

Shuga although it features Sindi as the virgin(I guess to balance it out) still leaves one with the feeling that casual, irresponsible sex is just fine as long as you have a condom in your back pocket.  This is just more Western ideas being imported to Kenyan audiences who are expected and encouraged to adopt them. After all Shuga is an MTV product, the media giant that has been instrumental in brainwashing at least two generations of kids as to what’s hip. Yes Shuga has all the glamour and high production values (and might I add a good soundtrack-Wahu & Nonini’s sound great in it ) but I really doubt this is the stuff Kenyan youth should be consuming right now. I would rather we got more shows like Tahidi High which though don’t have the big budgets are more responsible and want Kenyan solutions to Kenyan questions, not just cut and paste from American(or even South African) life.

Shuga Trailer from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.

Shuga just says to me that the government and Kenyan corporate need to invest more in film and TV shows so that we nurture talent and can have content is originally Kenyan.  Shuga will surely become a popular watch, but this will mostly because it will wow audiences with its Westernized style of presentation (check out the twitter/facebook-like bubbles that pop up during scenes.)  shuga should be the que for Kenyan TV show producers and directors to say, no we are not going to just import foreign ideas for mass consumption . We are Kenyans we know better how to present our issues and connect with youth, it can be done. I’ll be drinking my tea strungi on this one.


  1. thought so as well, though the scene at the VCT and those that follow quite bring down the aimed at message heavily. you can't miss the tension.

    the glamour is captivating and just when you think its all about that, the HIV/AIDS message comes out very real.

    good stuff!

  2. "This is just more Western ideas being imported to Kenyan audiences who are expected and encouraged to adopt them."

    Erm, and christianity is 'african'?
    When did my/your great-great grandparents read a bible?

  3. I COMPLETELY agree with you. I watched the first episode and I was quite shocked... then I was annoyed... now I am just angry. I think we (Kenyans) are smarter than this. Shuga is very slick and it sells a product (lifestyle). We are better off not buying what MTV is selling.

  4. Shuga was a good production. As for the 'heavy' scenes...well...HIV is a SEXUALLY transmitted disease, so the scenes are justifiable, given the message they are trying to put across. It may be uncomfortable for some to watch, but that's what actually happens, especially in Uni. For me the point was not that its 'ok' as long as you have a condom, but that HIV is real, and any1 can have it. The use of slick cars etc is to show that even rich/fly people live with the risk of contracting the disease, not just ordinary kenyans. It fights the stereotype that if you look good, you can't possibly have it. Then with Juliani's reality checks...It brought the message home in an unpretentious way

  5. i'm not sure what you refer to as "being imported from the west" and "foreign ideas". is it that they were having sex? cos even before shuga, mtv or even a tv station that wasnt KBC folks were cheating on each other, having sex for jobs and money and having multiple partners. and yes, this included the church going, choir singing folk.

    the reason why shuga resonates with so many is that it doesnt treat its intended audience like they are stupid. we all know these things go on. the story in itself shows the consequences of unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners and sex under the influence of alcohol. is your issue with the love scenes shown? in your opinion,would it (the show) have been up to par had they not been included? im seriously asking by the way, not being rhetorical or anything.

    by the by, the lip lock on the church steps? in my view, not frisky (quite chaste actually, considering all else that was going on) and something i know for a fact goes on on church grounds.

    in conclusion (i apologize for rambling all over your comment box) shuga is unmistakably kenyan. whether you may agree how kenya is or not is a whole different issue.

  6. Certified Peer educator and home based care giver and regular partier here.
    I think your post is inaccurate, Shuga had three messages:
    1. AIDS is real
    2. Protect yourself
    3. go and get tested and know your status.

    The filming was superb, and as per my friends twitter messages and Facebook status updates, the message hit home.
    so you can refuse to 'follow the ideals of the west' and stay ignorant, or you can open your eyes and see past MTV, and your Idea of Kenya.
    If you watch it closely, the characters during the day are the Kenya we know and love, the ones at night are those you fear and refuse to believe exist but actually do...

  7. A part of me sees your point of view regarding the MTV culture, but then I see this as reality. Yes, the average Kenyan youth doesn't drive a BMW, but if you go to Carnivore or some of the joints in Westlands, etc, you wouldn't know it. Unfortunately, Kenyans are copying Western values, whether they're delivered by Western programs or locally produced ones. The social scene is changing. You can check out my post if you're interested in a different perspective on the movie.

  8. You need to visit clubs in Westlands on a random Friday/Saturday night, and you'll come back here and post on how conservative Shuga actually is.

    This is stuff that's happening right here. You may not be aware of it, but that mini series painted the picture as it is.

    This is what the youth need. Real stuff. Sure abstinence is the way to go, but we're at that point where you have to preach a relevant message.

    Young people are having sex whether we want it or not. What are we going to say about it? Continue urging them to abstain?


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Kenya Police Draft of Service Standing Orders 2014

Njugush no longer at Hope FM