Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Bright Lights, No City' and 'My First Coup d'Etat'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Bright Lights, No City' and 'My First Coup d'Etat'

Article excerpt

How did two nice boys from Michigan end up as struggling businessmen in Ghana navigating 70-plus languages, a mango- and cassava-based diet, and one of the worst highway systems known to mankind? Siblings Max and Whit Alexander found themselves doing exactly this after Whit (co-creator of the popular board game Cranium) decided to try his hand at creative capitalism in the developing world. Bright Lights, No City is the story of the brothers bid to live the lives of Willy Loman in the Casbah as told through the eyes of Max, a former executive editor of Variety.

The story is entertainingly recounted but also full of eye- opening and hair-raising insights into the challenges of doing business in the third world.

Whit is the entrepreneur and Max the bemused scribe. My brother Whit was starting this business in Ghana ... renting batteries to people who earn a dollar a day, in a country with annual inflation exceeding 20 percent and a long history of military coups followed by firing squads, Max dryly recounts. Whit, an idealist in love with Africa since college, firmly believes that it is the marketplace not government handouts or benefit concerts that can create lasting solutions to African poverty.

In a country where half the population lives off the grid, high- quality rechargeable batteries should sell as briskly as iPhones in midtown Manhattan. Or so you might think until you actually arrive in Ghana and begin dealing with voodoo economics (literally), competing ethnic groups, a Zen-like concept of time and distance, and a country so lacking in infrastructure and know-how that a technician has no screwdriver and an electrician cant install a light.

If Whit is hoping to change the world (one battery at a time, he insists), Max is in search of the place where venture and adventure intersect. He finds plenty of both, harvesting cassava by machete, meeting venomous snakes (Ghana has 24 types), trading gibes with clusters of half-naked children, and interacting with patrons of establishments with names like Dont Mind Your Wife Drinking and Chop Bar. …

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