Weekly Briefing

Kenya: rifts

Two years after Kenya's violent elections, 10,000 displaced people still live in tents in the Rift Valley. On 17 February, they began the 120-mile march to Nairobi, protesting that the government has abandoned them.

The power-sharing government is already troubled by allegations of graft. Kenya is eastern Africa's most corrupt country, but internal squabbles have left the coalition struggling to tackle the problem. President Mwai Kibaki has suspended eight officials; with overtones of retaliation, Prime Minister Raila Odinga suspended two. Some doubt the coalition can survive. But Odinga is "confident we will find a solution".

China: protectionism

Beijing's announcement of a "Buy China" policy - intended to boost innovation by diverting money to local companies and encouraging foreign ones to move research to the country - has left Washington distinctly unimpressed.

The US accuses China of protectionism. China is blaming the US for exactly the same thing, after America placed duties as high as 175 per cent on Chinese electric blankets in January, claiming that they were being dumped on the US market at unfairly low prices. Deeper issues, such as the US-Taiwan arms deal and Google's criticisms of China, have also raised tensions.

But the "Buy China" policy is a homage to the US. The first Buy American Act arrived in 1933, and protectionist measures featured in 2008's economic stimulus bill.

UN: indigenous people

Described as a "tool for strengthening partnerships and co-operation with indigenous peoples", the UN's first ever report on the state of the world's indigenous communities is a sobering depiction of the 370 million lives that it surveys.

In Australia, indigenous children die, on average, 20 years earlier than their non-native peers; in the US, Native Americans are 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis than the national average. While many indigenous people live in wealthy areas, they account for one third of the world's extremely poor, rural population. Displacement from ancestral land is one of the most significant, recurrent threats.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, chair of the UN forum on indigenous issues, praised the survey's "daring" work for detailing the plight of those in developed - as well as developing - countries.

Turkey: railways

The first train service from Iraq to Turkey since the 1980s has left Mosul for the eastern Turkish city of Gazientep. At a full 18 hours, the 311-mile trip makes UK trains seem speedy. But then, they don't have to cross international borders - the Iraq-Turkey service crosses Syria. The railway is a nod to improved political and economic relations between Iraq and Turkey. Trade is growing; Turkey already does $10bn trade a year with the Kurds in northern Iraq.

Relations with Turkish Kurds are not so positive. In December, the constitutional court banned the Kurdish Democratic Society Party; on 15 February, protesters marking the 11th anniversary of the capture of Turkey's Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Öcalan, clashed with the police.

Bangladesh: farmers

“If we want to save the country, our farmers and agriculture will have to be saved," said Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, at the launch of the country's "agri-card", which will allow farmers to open bank accounts with a deposit of a few pence. They will be able to receive government subsidies without the need for middlemen; the cards will also store information about the farmers' land, which will become part of a database.

Twenty million Bangladeshi farmers, many of whom live on less than $2 a day, are due to receive cards. The hope, Hasina says, is that Bangladesh will one day become self-sufficient. Giving farmers a little more autonomy seems a good place to start.

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, IRAN