Shuga – an MTV production in collaboration with UNICEF and other partners, including the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – is a hard-hitting drama series based in Nairobi, Kenya. The six-part series follows the lives, loves and sometimes complicated sexual relations of young Kenyans. The show depicts the characters struggling to realise their dreams while attending university, living in slums and enjoying Nairobi’s nightlife.

The series illustrates how, in Nairobi’s rapidly changing social environment, some kinds of behaviour (including sex with multiple partners, sexual exploitation and alcohol abuse) can make young people more vulnerable to HIV and AIDS. ‘Shuga is a mirror of Nairobi’, proclaims Nick Ndeda, who plays Angelo, one of the main characters in the programme who is struggling with the idea of his girlfriend also having a ‘sugar daddy’, as well as being with him.

This is what is happening in the real world’ sighs Ndeda, ‘and we show it in Shuga’.

Series 2 of the popular drama began this month in Kenya (February 2012), but this time dealing with an even trickier sexual issue than before – homosexuality – when one of the male characters, Rayban, casually reveals that he is looking for a male soul mate.

The series’ creators and producers admit that popular dramas such as ‘Shuga’ will not end the HIV epidemic, nor will it gain immediate acceptance for homosexuals, but one thing it DOES do, is get people talking about the issues. It leads to open dialogue about the issues and, hopefully, will begin to challenge the stigma attached to them – especially considering characters within the show are seen having HIV tests themselves and openly discussing homosexual relationships.

So, is this a move forward for young Kenyan people, or more of a move towards Western values? The actors argue that they are, in fact, stuck in the middle. ‘We are copying the West but we also want to remain African’ claims Kenyan actress Avril, who plays Miss B’Have in the series. She states that she will still show respect to elders, as tradition demands, but will ‘…maintain the right to individual choice’.

Some members of the cast claim that change has already begun, due to the issues explored in the drama stating

A revolution is taking place…and the best way to stimulate change is through soups and music.

The effectiveness of ‘Shuga’ in changing behaviour of young Kenyans is currently being assessed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For individual cast members such as Lupita Nyong’o (who is also a film director), the series has even inspired personal change – ‘This is real – and I need to make a change in my life’.

Episodes 1, 2 and 3 from season 1 can be watched below:

Shuga Episode 1 from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.

Shuga Episode 2 from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.

Shuga Episode 3 from mtv staying alive on Vimeo.

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