Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dining with a Despot Dictator When Sleepless in Suva

31 March 2010

For my final night in Suva, I went out for a bite to eat with a few good friends to a downtown restaurant. As I’m sitting around enjoying me fleeting hours in Fiji and some delicious fish fingers, I notice him walk into the restaurant.

Yes, I would recognize him anywhere, though I’ve never met him or seen him in person before.

As I stare at his face, I stop eating – something I rarely do.

First, a woman approaches him and shakes his hand. Then another woman gets up from her table to exchange some words and a warm handshake with him.

I, however, have absolutely no desire to do anything of the sort.

After all, this is the man who threw several of my colleagues at the Fiji Daily Post in jail. This is the man who sends a government censor to my newsroom every night to decide which stories are suitable to publish. This is the man who overthrew Fiji’s democratically elected government.

The man standing a mere 10 feet from my table is Frank Bainimarama, Fiji’s military dictator.

Just like people always seem to say when they see most celebrities, I notice he’s much shorter than I imagined.

But then again, dictators aren’t known for their height. Napoleon was 5’6”; Kim Jung Il is a mere 5’2”; Stalin was only 5’4”; and Hitler was only 5’9”.

Perhaps it’s an extreme little man complex that drives these tiny men to become dictators in the first place.

After greeting some of the restaurant’s patrons, Bainimarama and his entourage are seated in the back corner of the restaurant. There is one plain-clothed guard accompanying the party.

I turn my attention back to my friends, and my neglected fish sticks, yet I can’t help but wonder why Bainimarama chose to dine at Bad Dog’s Grill. Then I realize that he’s at Bad Dog’s for the exact same reason I’m here: it’s the only restaurant in Suva open past 9 p.m.

I guess dictators have to eat too.

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