Sudan’s prime minister has announced the formation of the first government since the military removed longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April after widespread street protests.
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced the names of 18 ministers in the new Cabinet and said he would name two more at a later stage.
The members include Sudan‘s first woman foreign minister and a former World Bank economist.
“A new stage in Sudan’s history starts today,” Hamdok said at a news conference in the capital, Khartoum. “We are seeking an end to the war and [want to] achieve sustainable peace.”
He said the cabinet would “immediately” go to work on the top challenges facing the transitional administration, which include overhauling the ailing economy and achieving peace with armed groups.
Securing peace would sharply reduce military spending, which takes up as much as 80 percent of the state budget, Hamdok said.
“If we could put an end to this [military spending], it would go to health and education,” he said.
Four women in cabinet
The government was formed as part of a three-year power-sharing deal signed last month between the military, civilian parties and protest groups.
The body was supposed to have been announced late last month but internal negotiations within the pro-democracy movement delayed its formation.
The new government is a key step in transition away from nearly 30 years under al-Bashir’s rule, when Sudan was afflicted by internal conflicts, international isolation and deep economic problems.
However, the months since al-Bashir’s fall have been marked by tension between the powerful security forces and civilian groups that are pushing for democracy, reform and justice for those killed during crackdowns on protests.
The cabinet includes four women, among them Asmaa Abdallah, who will be the country’s first female foreign minister.
It also includes Ibrahim Elbadawi, a former World Bank economist who will serve as finance minister, and Madani Abbas Madani, a leader of the civilian coalition that negotiated the transition deal with the military, as a minister of industry and trade.
General Jamal Omar, a member of the Transitional Military Council that took over from al-Bashir, was appointed as defence minister.
Among the challenges facing Hamdok’s government are finding billions in funding to cover the country’s bill for importing basic goods like fuel and flour, negotiating Sudan’s removal from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, and slashing military spending.
Security and peacemaking in regions affected by insurgencies under al-Bashir are further challenges. The power-sharing deal calls for the government to reach a peace agreement with an alliance of rebels within six months.
Hamdok said that Sudan is forming a committee to establish a framework for a Peace Commission.
“Armed factions are an integral part of the revolution and the current [political] climate provides a great chance to reach understandings on peace,” he said.
Sudan’s future is seen as pivotal for a region plagued by conflict. Wealthy Gulf states including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia have been vying for influence and have close ties to Sudan’s top military commanders.
The military removed and arrested al-Bashir after 16 weeks of protests triggered by an economic crisis that included sharp inflation and shortages of cash and fuel.
A military council took over and began talks with protest and opposition groups, but negotiations were marred by lethal violence used against ongoing demonstrations.
According to last month’s deal, a sovereign council will preside over the first 21 months before handing over to civilian leadership for another 18 months ahead of elections.