By Francois Conradie, Head of Research, NKC African Economics

Sudan has a civilian prime minister for the first time since 1989, the year Omar Al-Bashir deposed Sadiq Al-Mahdi.

The new (transitional) prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, took the oath of office on Wednesday, August 21 – on the same day as the new Sovereign Council.

Mr Hamdok had been working as a senior economist for the UN in Ethiopia until last year and, after resigning from that position, had turned down an offer from Mr Bashir to become finance minister. He holds a PhD in economics from Manchester University and his career includes various positions in international organisations like the International Labour Organisation and the African Development Bank.

Real power will continue to lie with the military which will exercise it through the Sovereign Council.

The council is made up of five soldiers and six civilians, with the important detail that one of the civilians is a former military man. This means that the military will dominate the council through its chairman, General Abdel Fattah Burhan (who until this week was the leader of the Transitional Military Council, the TMC) and General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo (a powerful officer who has played a role in suppressing dissent in Darfur for decades).

Mr Burhan will exercise power for 21 months and then a civilian is to take over for 18 months. Elections are supposed to take place at the end of the latter period.

Mr Hamdok has one job: to improve Sudan’s international relations enough to unlock fresh loans from countries other than the Gulf states that have already supplied some desperately needed capital.

First prize would be if he could get Sudan’s designation by the US lifted as a state sponsor of terrorism, but it will take time before it becomes clear whether that will be possible.

The importance of better relations with foreign governments means that authorities will tend to promote good governance, so we remain cautiously optimistic about the direction of travel in Sudan, but massacres over the past few months show that the military men’s brutal instincts are still there.