While it takes a certain amount of courage to leave a comfortable life in the USA and immerse yourself  in the drama and chaos of Zimbabwe’s HIV/Aids crisis, this bravery pales in comparison to what it takes to admit that your efforts – and those of the countless individuals who devote their lives to ‘saving Africa’ – have largely been in vain. Jill Reilly’s Shame, written in the first person, is madly, deeply and unflinchingly honest as she uses her own experience of working as a project director in Zimbabwe for two years to ask – and answer – some pretty uncomfortable questions about the efficacy of Western aid and the fact that, in spite of the billions of dollars annually spent on development in Africa, little – if anything – has changed.

For Reilly, the book was about making sense of her very personal experiences and coming to terms with her (to her mind) questionable  – though intrinsically human – motives, but Shame also succeeds in highlighting some of the essential complexities commonly overlooked in our one-size-fits-all solution to socio-economic problems. It also illuminates the level of madness (or something more sinister, as the book hints) inherent in doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. What the book reveals is a level of quiet desperation that is difficult for the wealthy Western world to grasp, and reminds us that it is only when we are ready to ask the right questions and listen to the answers that we can begin to understand the world from another perspective – and truly help.

While Reilly understands the ‘giving’ conundrum and the resentment it engenders better than most, she remains committed to her cause, basing herself in South Africa and offering her insights in a consultant capacity. This book is an obligatory read for anyone involved in development or has simply wondered what goes wrong in the process. Shame is available online at Amazon, Kalahari, iBooks, the Book Lounge and Clarke’s.

 By Susan Hayden