Sudan reshuffles government, hoping to appease protesters

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2019 file photo, Sudan's new Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks during a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Sudan’s transitional government has announced a major Cabinet reshuffle, hoping to defuse public discontent over collapse of the economy and other crises that have tested the country’s path toward democracy. Hamdok on Thursday, July 9, 2020 accepted the resignation of six ministers, including the finance minister who has been faulted for failing to rescue the plunging economy. (AP Photo, File)

Sudan’s transitional government announced a major Cabinet reshuffle on Thursday, hoping to defuse public discontent over economic collapse and other crises that have tested the country’s path toward democracy.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok accepted the resignation of six ministers, including the finance minister criticized for failing to rescue the plunging economy. He also dismissed the health minister in the wake of a coronavirus outbreak that has hit the country hard.

A government statement named the acting replacements for the seven posts, which also include foreign, energy, agriculture and transportation ministers.

“The trust that the people have given the transitional government obliges us to listen to the voice of the street,” said Hamdok, referring to the sweeping protest movement that toppled longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April last year.

He added that the changes were aimed at meeting “accelerated economic and social changes.”

Following al-Bashir’s ouster, Sudan’s military and pro-democracy protesters reached a power-sharing agreement to form the Sovereign Council, made up of army generals and civilians, to rule the country until elections can be held in 2022. Still, the military has retained the upper hand in many ways.

The Cabinet shake-up was widely expected after hundreds of thousands rallied in Sudan’s major cities again on June 30 to pressure the government for reform. Protesters demanded the speedy appointment of civilian provincial governors, the formation of a legislative council and the completion of peace deals with rebels in the country’s restive provinces. At the time, Hamdok pledged to take “decisive steps” within two weeks.

Reshuffling gives the government room to appoint several ministers from rebel groups, as a condition of peace negotiations expected to conclude in the coming week. The Sudanese Revolutionary Front, an alliance of rebel groups, visited the capital of Khartoum this week to discuss a few outstanding points in the deal, such as rebels’ participation in the yet-to-be-formed legislative council.

Sudan has for decades been convulsed by insurgencies in the west and south, and last year’s power-sharing deal required the government reach a peace agreement within six months. Although the deadline has expired, Khartoum wants to ink a settlement and reduce military spending, which takes up 80% of the budget.

Heba Ali, a key official in the finance ministry, was appointed to replace Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi, who inherited a collapsed economy after decades of mismanagement under al-Bashir. Elbadawi was spearheading ambitious economic reform plans sought by foreign donors and the International Monetary Fund, which included painful steps like the slashing of fuel and other subsidies.

Earlier this week, in a move toward restructuring Sudan’s unwieldy security apparatus, Hamdok fired the police chief and his deputy, apparently over ties to al-Bashir.

The reshuffle seems unlikely to satisfy demonstrators, said Osman Mirghani, a Sudanese analyst and the editor of the daily al-Tayar. Other key officials, such as the commerce minister, have kept their jobs despite calls for them to be dismissed.

“Hamdok was actually forced to do this,” he said. “But I do not think the government has any real road map for how to create deeper change.”