English: Map of Mali showing Tombouctou Region...

Several years – actually probably around 2 decades ago – I was getteing ready for a new job in the Army. It was at a time when all our political and military focus had been on the threat of war in Europe as a result of a Soviet invasion.

This focus was almost total, as was the stability that it generated. But my new job was to take me away from Europe as I turned to look after what was officially called “The Rest of the World”. That is: the non-NATO threatened parts of the world.

And in preparation for that work I remember being told by one old sage “never to trust countries with straight line borders”. The reasoning was simple: they are the results of colonialist interventions that could not be bothered to understand the local cultural and tribal landscapes before drawing up national boundaries.

I was reminded of this advice last week when the challenges in Mali bubbled to the fore.

First off was the obvious question: “Where is Mali?” I remember as a youngster a similar question along the lines of “where on earth is Timbuktu?” I’m sure if you’d run a poll in Britain a few weeks ago the vast majority would not have been able to answer either question correctly.

The next question is why are WE involved? These straight lines were drawn up by the French interventions in North Africa. Why had we now gone from providing transport aircraft to help the French military to being prepared to provide Training support to the Malian Army?

I just can’t help but think that we are once again being drawn into a conflict on the back of someone else’s coat-tails. Is it just too difficult to say “Non!”?

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