Sudan swears in first cabinet since Al-Bashir's ouster

Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok (AFP Photo)

Sudan on Sept.9 swore in its first Cabinet since the military ousted autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April following mass pro-democracy protests.

The new members include Sudan's first woman foreign minister, Asmaa Abdalla, along with three other women, in an apparent acknowledgement of Sudanese women's participation in the uprising.

The Cabinet is part of a power-sharing agreement between the military and pro-democracy demonstrators, which also includes a joint military-civilian sovereign council and a legislative body that is supposed to be formed within three months. The three bodies are to govern Sudan for little more than three years until elections can be held.

The agreement capped months of negotiations that were accompanied by a deadly crackdown by security forces. It was signed following pressure from the United States and its Arab allies amid growing concerns that the political crisis could ignite a civil war.

Eighteen Cabinet ministers were sworn in before the country's top judge, Babaker Abbas, as well as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the sovereign council.

Hamdok is still negotiating with the pro-democracy movement over the last two ministerial posts to complete his 20-member Cabinet.

Burhan headed a joint ceremonial meeting of the Cabinet and the sovereign council.

The culture and information minister, Faisal Saleh, said at a televised news conference after the meeting that both bodies "share responsibility for achieving the targets...and the whole world is watching" their performance.

Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi, who is a former World Bank economist, said the governing bodies would carry out "urgent measures" in the first 200 days to "restructure the budget, control prices and tackle youth unemployment."

The transitional administration faces towering challenges, including the dire economic conditions behind the start of the protests late last year that eventually led the military to remove al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir, who rose to power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, failed to keep the peace in religiously and ethnically diverse Sudan, losing three-quarters of the country's oil wealth when the mainly animist and Christian south seceded in 2011 following a referendum.

The loss of oil revenue plunged the economy into a protracted crisis that continues.

Sudan is nearly USD 60 billion in debt. Hamdok said last month that Sudan needs up to USD 8 billion in foreign aid in the next two years and an additional USD 2 billion deposited as reserves to shore up the plunging local currency.

Another top challenge is peace with armed groups. A government delegation planned to travel Monday to South Sudan's capital, Juba, for talks with rebel leaders, the official SUNA news agency said.

Achieving peace with armed groups is crucial for the government as it would allow a reduction in military spending, which takes up to 80% of the budget, the prime minister has said.

Sudan has been convulsed by rebellions in its far-flung provinces for decades, and while a rebel alliance has joined the pro-democracy coalition, it said last month that it should be represented in the transitional government. The power-sharing deal calls for the government to reach a peace agreement with the rebels within six months. 

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