CAIRO — Sudan's prime minister announced the appointment of civilian governors for the country's 18 provinces Wednesday, another key step forward in a fragile transition to democracy over a year after the military ousted long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Abdalla Hamdok said at televised news conference that his government would gradually slash some energy subsidies as part reforms to help the African nation face daunting economic challenges.

He said the new governors, who included two women for the Nile River and the Norther provinces, would take office in the "next few days."

"This is the genuine beginning of change in the provinces," he said. "I hope this step will have a profound effect in preserving security and stability."

He acknowledged that the representation of women among the governors was unambitious, proposing higher representation for women in the provincial governments.

"We need to deal with this issue and to go beyond slogans to the real action," Hamdok said.

Women were at the forefront of the popular uprising that led the military to topple al-Bashir in April 2019 after nearly three decades in power.

A power-sharing agreement, signed last August between the military and protesters, created a joint military-civilian administration that must navigate a delicate path toward eventual democratic elections in 2022.

The appointment of the governors and the make-up of an interim parliament were part of the power-sharing agreement.

The government has apparently reached a compromise with Sudan's rebels since they both had agreed to delay the appointment of new governors and the make-up of an interim legislative body until they struck a peace deal.

Sudan has for decades been convulsed by insurgencies in the west and south. The transitional government is under pressure to end the wars with the rebel groups.

The power-sharing deal required the government reach a peace agreement within six months. Although the deadline has passed, Khartoum wants to link a settlement with the rebels mainly to reduce military spending, which takes up 80% of the government budget.

Hamdok said the government would gradually slash subsidies for gasoline, part of the reforms his government would undertake to be qualified to a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF said last month that it reached an initial agreement with Hamdok's government on a programl that envisages increasing government revenue and overhauling energy subsidies to create room for more spending on social programs, including the health sector and assistance to the poor.

Battered by decades of U.S. sanctions and mismanagement under al-Bashir, Sudan suffers from inflation that reached 114% in May, a foreign debt at close to $60 billion and widespread shortages of essential goods, including fuel, bread and medicine.

Sudan's debt was over 190% of its GDP in 2019 and the nation's currency, the Sudanese pound, continues to depreciate rapidly, the IMS said. The pound is valued on the black market for over double of its official rate of 55 pounds to the dollar.

Overall, the Sudanese economy contracted 2.5% in 2019 and is projected to shrink 8% in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic weighs heavily on the economy, according the IMF.

Acting Finance Minister Heba Mohammed Ali said the government's revenues have declined 40% because of the coronavirus pandemic. The government would gradually devalue the pound, she said without elaborating.

Sudan has reported around 11,240 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, along with 708 deaths, but testing is limited and the country's health system is ill-equipped to handle a pandemic.