Lesotho is an independent kingdom in southern Africa; it is an enclave within South Africa (that is, it is completely surrounded by South Africa and has no other borders or access to the sea). The capital city is Maseru.
More than 99% of Lesotho's population is ethnically Basotho; other ethnic groups include Europeans and Asians. The country's population is 80% Christian, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic. Other religions are Islam, Hindu, and indigenous beliefs. Sesotho and English are official languages, and other languages spoken include Zulu and Xhosa.
- Population (2005 est.): 2 million.
- Annual growth rate (2004 est.): 1.4%. (Note: the population growth rate is depressed by an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate estimated to be at approximately 29%.)
- Ethnic groups: Basotho 99.7%; Europeans, Asians, and other 0.3%.
- Religions: 80% Christian, including Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations; other religions include Islam, Hindu, indigenous.
- Languages: Official--Sesotho and English. Others--Zulu, Xhosa.
- Education: Years compulsory--None. Literacy (2003 est.)--84.8%. Lesotho has free primary education (grades 1-7).
- Health: Infant mortality rate (2004 est.)--85.22/1,000. Life expectancy (2004 est.)--36.81 years.
- Work force (2001 est.): 704,000.
Government and Political Conditions
The Lesotho Government is a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, is head of government and has executive authority. The King serves a largely ceremonial function; he no longer possesses any executive authority and is proscribed from actively participating in political initiatives.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) controls a majority in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament), with All Basotho Congress (ABC), the National Independent Party, and the Lesotho Workers Party among the 9 opposition parties represented. The upper house of parliament, called the Senate, is composed of 22 principal chiefs whose membership is hereditary, and 11 appointees of the King, acting on the advice of the prime minister.
The constitution provides for an independent judicial system. The judiciary is made up of the Court of Appeal, the High Court, Magistrate's Courts, and traditional courts that exist predominately in rural areas. All but one of the Justices on the Court of Appeal are South African jurists. There is no trial by jury; rather, judges make rulings alone, or, in the case of criminal trials, with two other judges as observers. The constitution also protects basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech, association, and the press; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of religion.
For administrative purposes, Lesotho is divided into 10 districts, each headed by a district administrator.
Lesotho held its first post-independence local government elections on April 30, 2005 using a quota system that reserved one-third of electoral divisions for women candidates. In these elections, 53% of the victorious candidates were women. Locally elected officials attended post-election training while regulations for local governance were drawn up by the National Assembly and infrastructure was created.
Principal Government Officials
- Head of State--King Letsie III
- Prime Minister--Tom Thabane
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs and Public Safety--Archibald Lesao Lehohla
- Minister of Defense--Pakalitha Mosisili (also Prime Minister)
- Minister of Foreign Affairs--Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa, MP
Lesotho's geographic location makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa. It is a member of many regional economic organizations including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Lesotho also is active in the United Nations, the African Union, the Nonaligned Movement, the Commonwealth, and many other international organizations. In addition to the United States, South Africa, China, Libya, Ireland (Consulate General), and the European Union all currently retain resident diplomatic missions in Lesotho. The United Nations is represented by a resident mission as well, including UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, FAO, WFP, and UNAIDS.
Lesotho has historically maintained generally close ties with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other Western states. Although Lesotho decided in 1990 to break relations with the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) and reestablish relations with Taiwan, it has since restored ties with the P.R.C. Lesotho also recognized Palestine as a state, was a strong public supporter of the end of apartheid in South Africa, and granted a number of South African refugees political asylum during the apartheid era.
The security force is composed of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF--estimated 4,000 personnel) and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS--estimated 3,000-4,000 personnel). The LDF consists of an army, an air wing, and a paramilitary wing. The LDF answers to the Prime Minister (who is the Minister of Defense and National Security and also the Minister of Public Service), while the Lesotho Mounted Police Service reports to the Minister of Home Affairs. There also is a National Security Service (NSS), Intelligence, which is directly accountable to the Prime Minister. Relations between the police and the army have occasionally been tense, and in 1997 the army was called upon to put down a serious police mutiny.
Lesotho's economy is based on water and electricity sold to South Africa, manufacturing, earnings from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), agriculture, livestock, and to some extent earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. Lesotho also exports diamonds, wool, and mohair. Lesotho is geographically surrounded by South Africa and economically integrated with it as well. The majority of households subsist on farming or migrant labor, primarily miners in South Africa for 3 to 9 months. The western lowlands form the main agricultural zone. Almost 50% of the population earns some income through crop cultivation or animal husbandry, with over half the country's income coming from the agricultural sector.
- GDP (2003): $1.43 billion.
- Annual growth rate (2004): 3.4%.
- Per capita GDP (2003): $550.
- Average inflation rate (2003): 10%.
- Natural resources: Water, agricultural and grazing land, some diamonds and other minerals. Lesotho is an exporter of excess labor.
- Agriculture (2003 est.): 16.8% of GDP. Products--corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, peas, beans, asparagus, wool, mohair, livestock. Arable land--11%.
- Industry (2003 est.): 43.1% of GDP. Types--apparel, food, beverages, handicrafts, construction, tourism.
- Trade (2003): Exports--$450 million; clothing, furniture, footwear and wool. Partners--South Africa, United States, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, EU. Imports--$661 million; corn, clothing, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, petroleum products. Partners--South Africa, Asia, EU.
- Fiscal year: 1 April - 31 March.
- Economic aid received (2002): $972.6 million. Primary donors--World Bank, IMF, EU, UN, U.K., Ireland, U.S.
Water is Lesotho's only significant natural resource. It is being exploited through the 30-year, multi-billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which was initiated in 1986. The LHWP is designed to capture, store, and transfer water from the Orange River system and send it to South Africa's Free State and greater Johannesburg area, which features a large concentration of South African industry, population, and agriculture. Completion of the first phase of the project has made Lesotho almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and generated approximately $24 million annually from the sale of electricity and water to South Africa. The World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and many other bilateral donors financed the project. Lesotho has taken advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to become the largest exporter of garments to the U.S. from sub-Saharan Africa. Exports totaled $466.9 million in 2004. Employment reached 40,000. Asian investors own most factories.
Lesotho has received economic aid from a variety of sources, including the United States, the World Bank, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Germany, and the People's Republic of China.
Lesotho has nearly 6,000 kilometers of unpaved and modern all-weather roads. There is a short rail line (freight) linking Lesotho with South Africa that is totally owned and operated by South Africa. Lesotho is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) in which tariffs have been eliminated on the trade of goods with other member countries, which include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. With the exception of Botswana, these countries also form a common currency and exchange control area known as the Common Monetary Area (CMA). The South African rand can be used interchangeably with the loti, the Lesotho currency (plural: maloti). One hundred lisente equal one loti. The loti is at par with the rand.
According to recent estimates, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Lesotho is about 29%, one of the highest rates in the world. The United Nations estimates that this rate will rise to 36% within the next 15 years, resulting in a sharp drop in life expectancy. According to the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics, in 2001 life expectancy was estimated at 48 for men and 56 for women. Recent statistics estimate that life expectancy has fallen to an average of 36.81.
The government of Lesotho was initially slow to recognize the scale of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and its efforts to date in combating the spread of the disease have met with limited success. In 1999, the government finalized its Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS, a diagram for addressing the education, prevention, counseling, and treatment needs of the populace. In late 2003, the government announced that it was forming a new National AIDS Commission to coordinate society-wide anti-AIDS activities. Also in 2003 the Government of Lesotho hosted a SADC Extraordinary Summit on HIV/AIDS. In July 2005 legislation was passed to create the National AIDS Commission.
Lesotho gained independence from Britain on October 4, 1966. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) appeared set to lose the first post-independence general elections when Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan annulled the election. He refused to cede power to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and imprisoned its leadership.
The BNP ruled by decree until January 1986 when a military coup forced them out of office. The Military Council that came into power granted executive powers to King Moshoeshoe II, who was until then a ceremonial monarch. In 1990, however, the King was forced into exile after a falling out with the army. His son was installed as King Letsie III.
The chairman of the military junta, Major General Metsing Lekhanya, was ousted in 1991 and then replaced by Major General Phisoane Ramaema, who handed over power to a democratically elected government of the BCP in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile in 1992 as an ordinary citizen. After the return to democratic government, King Letsie III tried unsuccessfully to persuade the BCP government to reinstate his father (Moshoeshoe II) as head of state. In August 1994, Letsie III staged a coup which was backed by the military and deposed the BCP government. The new government did not receive full international recognition. Member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) engaged in negotiations aimed at the reinstatement of the BCP government. One of the conditions put forward by the King for the return of the BCP government was that his father should be re-installed as head of state. After protracted negotiations, the BCP government was reinstated and the King abdicated in favor of his father in 1995, but Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996 and was again succeeded by his son, Letsie III. The ruling BCP split over leadership disputes in 1997.
Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle formed a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and was followed by a majority of Members of Parliament, which enabled him to form a new government. The LCD won the general elections in 1998 under the leadership of Pakalitha Mosisili, who had succeeded Mokhehle as party leader. Despite the elections being pronounced free and fair by local and international observers and a subsequent special commission appointed by SADC, the opposition political parties rejected the results.
Opposition protests in the country intensified, culminating in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in August 1998. When junior members of the armed services mutinied in September, the government requested a SADC task force to intervene to prevent a coup and restore stability. A military group of South African and Botswana troops entered the country in September, put down the mutiny, and withdrew in May 1999. Looting, casualties, and widespread destruction of property followed.
An Interim Political Authority (IPA), charged with reviewing the electoral structure in the country, was created in December 1998. The IPA devised a proportional electoral system to ensure that there would be opposition in the National Assembly. The new system retained the existing 80 elected Assembly seats, but added 40 seats to be filled on a proportional basis. Elections were held under this new system in May 2002, and the LCD won again. For the first time, due to the inclusion of proportional seats, opposition political parties won significant numbers of seats. Elections were held again in February 2007. Nine opposition parties hold all 40 of the proportional seats, with the National Independent Party (NIP) having the largest share (21). The LCD has 61 of the 80 constituency-based seats, and All Basotho Congress (ABC) holds 17.