Somalis enjoy reading the funnies, Army finds

December 29, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

BAIDOA, Somalia -- A Somali version of "Calvin and Hobbes is the most popular part of the American operation to win over the hearts and minds of Somalis.

The cartoon strip, in a daily Somali-language paper published by the Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group, features a young Somali camel herder named Elmi and his loyal camel, Mandeeg.

"People like to read a conversation between two people, so we read Elmi and Mandeeg first," said Abdi Hamid, a 19-year-old Baidoan.

In one recent strip, Mandeeg the camel suggested that guns in the hands of so many people were dangerous to everybody.

Elmi agreed but explained that the international forces needed their weapons to protect themselves. ". . . I suppose that everybody could understand this," the camel replied.

These banalities are taken at face value. Abdi Abukar, a former librarian in Baidoa, said the two characters make perfect sense to him.

"Elmi is a human who knows wrong from right. Mandeeg is an animal, who does not know the difference," he said. "We Somalis don't know what's happening. So the camel represents Somalis, who don't know what's going on."

The character Elmi is based on a real person, Navy Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Abdul Elmi, 23, who left Somalia when he was 11. He is now temporarily attached as an interpreter with the 4th PsyOps unit, based at Fort Bragg, Ga.

"I was at the meeting when this idea for the cartoon was being kicked around," he said.

Abdul Karin Abdi, a civilian translator, said the choice of a camel herder was no accident.

"He is the elite, a person who is considered tough and strong in Somali culture," he explained.

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