Sudan swears in new PM as Bashir bemoans economic woes

The Presidential palace in Khartoum, on Sept 10, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

KHARTOUM (AFP) - Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir swore in a new premier on Monday (Sept 10) in a bid to ease an economic crisis, and lambasted alleged efforts to "block" his country from foreign markets.

Outgoing irrigation minister Moutaz Mousa Abdallah took the oath of office at the presidential palace, after Bashir fired the incumbent prime minister and cabinet on Sunday (Sept 9).

The 31-member cabinet is to be slashed to just 21 portfolios, as the country grapples with an acute foreign exchange shortage and inflation above 65 per cent.

"The current economic situation results from an economic embargo and a plan to block the country from accessing foreign resources," Bashir said in a televised speech on Monday.

He did not say which country or countries he believed to be behind this alleged plan.

But there is resentment in Sudan that the United States has kept the country on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, despite ending two decades of sanctions in October.

The long trade embargo severely undermined Sudan's economy, which was dealt another hefty blow when oil-rich South Sudan seceded in 2011.

Sudanese officials say international investors will remain wary of re-engaging, so long as the country remains on the US terror watch list.

Reforms expected

Abdallah replaces Bakri Hassan Saleh, who will retain the post of first vice president.

"There's no need to have a huge government at a time when the people are struggling to afford even basic items," Bashir said.

"Now we are talking with friends to launch specific projects that would improve the livelihoods of our people and balance Sudan's economy," he said.

Food prices have more than doubled since last year on the back of the high inflation rate, while the Sudanese pound has plunged against the US dollar.

"I want to thank the people for their patience even as they faced these economic difficulties," Bashir added.

"Some thought that these economic difficulties would trigger social tension, but the patience of our people stopped this from happening."

In January, there were sporadic anti-government protests against food prices, but the authorities swiftly curbed them by arresting opposition leaders and activists.

In September 2013, dozens were killed when anti-austerity protesters clashed with security forces after the government cut fuel subsidies.

The World Bank has urged Sudan to implement structural reforms to revive its ailing economy.

Economic growth averaged over six percent during the decade to 2008, but it has since declined.

The economy grew 3.2 per cent in 2017, according to the IMF.

"Our appointments are part of the economic reforms to help President Omar al-Bashir," said Mohamed Osman Yousif Kiber, who was sworn in as a vice president on Monday.

"We know the difficulties and what is to be done to resolve the current situation", he added.

Analysts said Bashir's cabinet overhaul indicated he was responding to the crisis.

"He realised that the government had failed and that it had no policies to resolve the crisis," said Khalid Tijani, editor of economic weekly Elaff.

The success of the new cabinet will depend on what policies it formulates and who else is appointed, Tijani added.

"If the same old faces - some of whom have been there for 30 years - return then that would create a negative perception among the people."

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