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Sudan's transitional government appoints civilian rulers to states

Government introduces political and economic reforms as financial crisis looms
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks during a joint press conference with the German president in Sudan's capital Khartoum (AFP)

Sudan's transitional government has appointed 18 civilian state governors across the country to replace military leaders.

The decision came alongside a raft of reforms that included a currency adjustment plan and plans to lift subsidies on diesel and gasoline, as the government tries to tackle an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced the appointment of civilian governors for Sudan's 18 states, which had been ruled by military officers for more than a year.

The move fulfills what have been key demands by both the protest movement that ousted former ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and the various rebel groups that are scattered around the country.

According to the Sudan News Agency, Hamdok described the appointment of the new governors as “the real start of change in the states”.

It also includes the appointment of two women as governors of states for the first time in Sudan since the country's independence.

The move was criticised in some quarters, however.

The Sudanese Professional Association, one of the key organisations in the 2019 anti-Bashir protests, said in a tweet that Hamdok had overstepped his mandate by sharing the positions among political parties.

It also said that women were too under-represented.

Economic crisis

Sudan's economy is at risk of freefall, hammered by an annual inflation rate of more than 100 percent and shortages of electricity, bread, fuel and medicine. The currency recently hit a record low of 150 Sudanese pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared with 55 at the official rate - though it is now at 140 to the dollar.

Covid-19 has hit the economy hard, causing a 40 percent loss of public revenues, acting Finance Minister Hiba Mohamed Ali said.

A government source told Reuters the currency adjustment programme would begin in August, aiming to reach a full float in two years. The amended budget would be approved in the coming days, the source added.

Fuel and bread shortages were the initial spark that led to mass protests against Bashir's three-decade rule.

Ali said the private sector would be allowed to import fuel in unlimited quantities through a newly created trade finance fund that Hamdok said has a portfolio of $1bn for imports.

The government source also said that fuel importers would be allowed to start buying fuel using dollars at free market price in August.

Hamdok said that while subsidies on diesel and gasoline will be lifted, the government would continue to bear the brunt of the cost of flour, medicine and cooking gas. Subsidised fuel can still be sold to sectors like agriculture, Ali said.

The removal of costly subsidies is often a key requirement of donors such as the International Monetary Fund, which signed a staff-level agreement on policies and reforms that can underpin a staff-monitored programme subject to the board's approval.

Foreign donor nations in June pledged $1.8bn to help Sudan. Ali said $484.7m of that money has been set aside for a cash transfer programme to support poor families as the subsidies are being phased out.