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Lesotho Bureau of African Affairs
July 2007

Background Note: Lesotho

A woman wearing a traditional hat
waits to vote in Likalaneng, Lesotho,
February 17, 2007. [© AP Images]

Flag of Lesotho is three horizontal stripes of blue - top - white, and green
in proportions 3:4:3; centered in white stripe is black Basotho hat
representing the indigenous people.


Kingdom of Lesotho

Area: 30,355 sq. km. (11,718 sq. mi.), about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Maseru (173,700). Other cities--Teyateyaneng (22,800),
Leribe (35,000), Mafeteng (32,900), Mohale's Hoek (18,400).
Terrain: High veld, plateau and mountains.
Climate: Temperate; summers hot, winters cool to cold; humidity generally low
and evenings cool year round. Rainy season in summer, winters dry. Southern
hemisphere seasons are reversed.

Nationality: Noun--Mosotho (sing.); Basotho (pl.). Adjective--Basotho.
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
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.

Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: April 2, 1993.
Independence: October 4, 1966.
Branches: Executive--monarch is head of state; prime minister is head of
government and cabinet. Legislative--Bicameral parliament consists of elected
Assembly and non-elected Senate. Judicial--High Court, Court of Appeals,
Magistrate's Court, traditional and customary courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 districts.
Political parties: Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), All Basotho Congress
(ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), Lesotho Peoples Congress (LPC), National
Independent Party (NIP), Basutoland African Congress (BAC), Basutoland
Congress Party (BCP), Lesotho Workers Party (LWP), Popular Front for
Democracy (PFD), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), Christian Democratic Party
(CDP), Kopanang Basotho Party (KBP), National Progressive Party (NPP), New
Lesotho's Freedom Party (NLFP), Sefate Democratic Union (SDU), Social
Democratic Party (SDP), United Party (UP).
Suffrage: 18 years of age.
Central government budget (FY 2003-2004 est.): Revenues--$560 million.
Expenditures--$599 million.

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.

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.

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.

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 officialsattended 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--Pakalitha Mosisili
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
Minister of Education and Training--Dr. Mamphono Khaketla
Minister of Natural Resources--Monyane Moleleki, MP
Minister of Local Government--Pontso Sekatle
Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Law and Constitutional
Affairs--Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa, MP
Minister of Finance and Development Planning--Timothy Thahane
Minister of Tourism, Environment, and Culture--Lebohang Ntsinyi
Minister of Public Service--Pakalitha Mosisili (also Prime Minister)
Minister of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives, and Marketing--Mpho 'Mali Malie
Minister of Communications, Science, and Technology--Mothojoa Metsing, MP
Minister of Health and Social Welfare--Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng, Senator
Minister of Employment and Labor--Moses Refiloe Masemene
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security--Lesole Mokoma, MP
Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation--Mathabiso Lepono
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office--Dr. Motloheloa Phooko, Senator
Minister of Public Works and Transportation--Ts'ele Chakela
Assistant Minister of Justice, Human Rights, and Rehabilitation, Law and
Constitutional Affairs--Mothejoa Metsing
Assistant Minister of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives, and Marketing--Popane
Lebesa, MP
Assistant Minister of Education and Training--Dr. Mamphono Khaketla, MP
Assistant Minister of Agriculture and Food Security--Molise T'seole
Assistant Minister of Sports, Gender, and Youth Affairs--Hlonepho Nts'ekhe

Ambassador to the United States--Molelekeng Ernestina Rapolaki
Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations--Lebohang

Lesotho maintains an embassy in the United States at 2511 Massachusetts
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-797-5533). Lesotho's mission to the
United Nations is located at 204 East 39th Street, New York, NY 10016 (tel:

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.

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.

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 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 United States was one of the first four countries to establish an embassy
in Maseru after Lesotho gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966.
Since this time, Lesotho and the United States have consistently maintained
warm bilateral relations. In 1996, the United States closed its bilateral aid
program in Lesotho. The Southern African regional office of the U.S. Agency
for International Development (USAID) in Gaborone, Botswana now administers
most of the U.S. assistance to Lesotho, which totaled approximately $2
million in FY 2004. Total U.S. aid to Lesotho is over $10 million, including
humanitarian food assistance. The Peace Corps has operated in Lesotho since
1966. About 100 Peace Corps volunteers concentrate in the sectors of health,
agriculture, education, rural community development, and the environment. The
Government of Lesotho encourages greater American participation in commercial
life and welcomes interest from potential U.S. investors and suppliers.

Principal U.S. Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--W. Patrick Murphy
Management Officer--Craig Anderson
Consular Officer--Joyce Brooks
Public Diplomacy Officer--Christopher Smith
General Services Officer--Wendy Kahler
Information Management Officer--Dwayne Taylor
Director, Peace Corps--Hilliard Denham

The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy is P.O. Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho.
Tel: (266) 22-312-666; fax: (266) 22-310-116. E-mail: infomaseru@state.gov.

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizenstraveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
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Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://
www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
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working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
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STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
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