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  U.S. Department of State, August 1999
Bureau of African Affairs

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Background Notes:
Lesotho

 
Official Name:
Kingdom of Lesotho

PROFILE

Geography

Area: 30,355 sq. km. (11,718 sq. mi.), about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Maseru (1997 pop. est. 386,000). Other cities--Teyateyaneng (240,754), Leribe (300,160), Mafeteng (211,970), Mohale's Hoek (184,034).
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.

People

Nationality: Noun--Mosotho (sing.); Basotho (pl.) Adjective--Basotho.
Population (1998 est.): 2,089,829.
Annual growth rate (1998 est.): 1.9%.
Ethnic groups: Basotho 99.7%; Europeans 1,600; Asians 800.
Religions: 80% Christian, including Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations.
Languages: Official--Sesotho and English; others--Zulu, Xhosa.
Education: Years compulsory--None. Literacy (1998)--71.3%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1997 est.)--80.3/1,000. Life expectancy (1997 est.)--51.66 years.
Work force (1997 est.): 689,000. 86% subsistence agriculture.

Government

Type: Modified constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: April 2, 1993.
Independence: October 4, 1966.
Branches: Executive--monarch is chief of state; prime minister is head of government and cabinet. Legislative--Bicameral parliament consists of nonelected senate and elected assembly. Judicial--High Court, Court of Appeals, Magistrate's Court, traditional and customary courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 districts.
Political parties: Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), Basotho National Party (BNP), Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), United Democratic Party (UDP), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Sefate Democratic Union (SDU).
Suffrage: 18 years of age.
Central government budget (FY 96-97 est.): Revenues--$507 million; Expenditures--$487 million.
Flag: Diagonal fields of green and blue with a traditional Basotho shield in brown on a diagonal field of white occupying remaining half of flag.

Economy

GDP (1997 est.): Purchasing power parity--$5.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (1997 est.): 9% (although this decreased significantly in 1998 because of political unrest).
Per capita GDP (1997 est.): Purchasing power parity--$2,500.
Average inflation rate (1998 est.): 8.7%.
Natural resources: Water, agricultural and grazing land, some diamonds and other minerals. Lesotho is an exporter of excess labor.
Agriculture (1997 est.: 14% of GDP): Products--corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, peas, beans, asparagus, wool, mohair, livestock. Arable land--11%.
Industry (1997 est.: 46% of GDP): Products--food, beverages, textiles, handicrafts, construction, tourism.
Trade (1996 est.): Exports--$218 million; clothing, furniture, footwear and wool. Partners--South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, North America, EU. Imports--$1.1 billion; corn, clothing, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, petroleum products. Partners--South Africa, Asia, EU.
Fiscal year: 1 April - 31 March.
Economic aid received (1998): Primary donors--World Bank, IMF, EU, UN, UK, other bilateral donors. U.S. assistance--$400,000.

HISTORY

Basutoland (now Lesotho--pronounced le-SOO-too) was sparsely populated by San bushmen (Qhuaique) until the end of the 16th century. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, refugees from surrounding areas gradually formed the Basotho ethnic group.

In 1818, Moshoeshoe I (pronounced mo-SHWAY-shway) consolidated various Basotho groupings and became their King. During Moshoeshoe's reign (1823-1870), a series of wars with South Africa (1856-68) resulted in the loss of extensive Basotho land, now known as the "Lost Territory." In order to protect his people, Moshoeshoe appealed to Queen Victoria for assistance, and in 1868 the land that is present-day Lesotho was placed under British protection. After a 1955 request by the Basutoland Council to legislate its internal affairs, in 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. This was followed in April 1965 with general legislative elections with universal adult suffrage in which the Basotho National Party (BNP) won 31 and the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP) won 25 of the 65 seats contested.

On October 4, 1966, the Kingdom of Lesotho attained full independence, governed by a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament consisting of a Senate and an elected National Assembly. Early results of the first post-independence elections in January 1970 indicated that the BNP might lose control. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Chief Leabua Jonathan, the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) refused to cede power to the rival Basotholand Congress Party (BCP), although the BCP was widely believed to have won the elections. Citing election irregularities, Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan nullified the elections, declared a national state of emergency, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the Parliament. In 1973, an appointed Interim National Assembly was established. With an overwhelming progovernment majority, it was largely the instrument of the BNP, led by Prime Minister Jonathan. In addition to the Jonathan regime's alienation of Basotho powerbrokers and the local population, South Africa had virtually closed the country's land borders because of Lesotho support of cross-border operations of the African National Congress (ANC). Moreover, South Africa publicly threatened to pursue more direct action against Lesotho if the Jonathan government did not root out the ANC presence in the country. This internal and external opposition to the government combined to produce violence and internal disorder in Lesotho that eventually led to a military takeover in 1986.

Under a January 1986 Military Council decree, state executive and legislative powers were transferred to the King who was to act on the advice of the Military Council, a self-appointed group of leaders of the Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF). A military government chaired by Justin Lekhanya ruled Lesotho in coordination with King Moshoeshoe II and a civilian cabinet appointed by the King.

In February 1990, King Moshoeshoe II was stripped of his executive and legislative powers and exiled by Lekhanya, and the Council of Ministers was purged. Lekhanya accused those involved of undermining discipline within the armed forces, subverting existing authority, and causing an impasse on foreign policy that had been damaging to Lesotho's image abroad. Lekhanya announced the establishment of the National Constituent Assembly to formulate a new constitution for Lesotho with the aim of returning the country to democratic, civilian rule by June 1992. Before this transition, however, Lekhanya was ousted in 1991 by a mutiny of junior army officers that left Phisoane Ramaema as Chairman of the Military Council.

Because Moshoeshoe II initially refused to return to Lesotho under the new rules of the government in which the King was endowed only with ceremonial powers, Moshoeshoe's son was installed as King Letsie III. In 1992, Moshoeshoe II returned to Lesotho as a regular citizen until 1995 when King Letsie abdicated the throne in favor of his father. After Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996, King Letsie III ascended to the throne again.

In 1993, a new constitution was implemented leaving the King without any executive authority and proscribing him from engaging in political affairs. Multiparty elections were then held in which the BCP ascended to power with a landslide victory. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle headed the new BCP government that had gained every seat in the 65-member National Assembly. In early 1994, political instability increased as first the army, followed by the police and prisons services, engaged in mutinies. In August 1994, King Letsie III, in collaboration with some members of the military, staged a coup, suspended Parliament, and appointed a ruling council. As a result of domestic and international pressures, however, the constitutionally elected government was restored within a month.

In 1995, there were isolated incidents of unrest, including a police strike in May to demand higher wages. For the most part, however, there were no serious challenges to Lesotho's constitutional order in the 1995-96 period. In January 1997, armed soldiers put down a violent police mutiny and arrested the mutineers.

In 1997, tension within the BCP leadership caused a split in which Dr. Mokhehle abandoned the BCP and established the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) followed by two-thirds of the parliament. This move allowed Mokhehle to remain as Prime Minister and leader of a new ruling party, while relegating the BCP to opposition status. The remaining members of the BCP refused to accept their new status as the opposition party and ceased attending sessions. Multiparty elections were again held in May 1998.

Although Mokhehle completed his term as Prime Minister, due to his failing health, he did not vie for a second term in office. The elections saw a landslide victory for the LCD, gaining 79 of the 80 seats contested in the newly expanded Parliament. As a result of the elections, Mokhehle's Deputy Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, became the new Prime Minister. The landslide electoral victory caused opposition parties to claim that there were substantial irregularities in the handling of the ballots and that the results were fraudulent. The conclusion of the Langa Commission, a commission appointed by SADC to investigate the electoral process, however, was consistent with the view of international observers and local courts that the outcome of the elections was not affected by these incidents. Despite the fact that the election results were found to reflect the will of the people, opposition protests in the country intensified. The protests culminated in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in early August 1998 and in an unprecedented level of violence, looting, casualties, and destruction of property. In early September, junior members of the armed services mutinied. The Government of Lesotho requested that a SADC task force intervene to prevent a military coup and restore stability to the country. To this end, Operation Boleas, consisting of South African and Botswanan troops, entered Lesotho on September 22, 1998 to put down the mutiny and restore the democratically elected government.

After stability returned to Lesotho, the SADC task force withdrew from the country in May 1999, leaving only a small task force (joined by Zimbabwean troops) to provide training to the LDF. In the meantime, an Interim Political Authority (IPA), charged with reviewing the electoral structure in the country, was created in December 1998. The army mutineers were brought before a court martial. In general, Lesotho's political situation has stabilized substantially, and the next elections are expected to take place in 2000.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The Lesotho Government is a modified form of 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) won the majority in parliament in the May 1998 elections, leaving the once-dominant Basotho National Party (BNP) and Basotholand Congress Party (BCP) far behind in total votes. Although international observers as well as a regional commission declared the elections to have reflected the will of the people, many members of the opposition have accused the LCD of electoral fraud. The 1998 elections were the third multiparty elections in Lesotho's history. The LCD, BNP, and BCP remain the principal rival political organizations in Lesotho. Distinctions and differences in political orientation between the major parties have blurred in recent years.

The constitution provides for an independent judicial system. The judiciary is made up of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, magistrate's courts, and traditional courts that exist predominately in rural areas. 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 secretary and a district military officer appointed by the central government and the RLDF, respectively.

Principal Government Officials

Head of State--King Letsie III
Head of Government--Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili

Cabinet

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Planning-- Kelebone A. Maope
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Motsoahae Thomas Thabane
Minister of Natural Resources--Monyane Moleleki
Minister of Local Government and Home Affairs--Mopshatla Mabitle
Minister of Human Rights, Law, Constitutional Affairs and Rehabilitation--Shakhane Mokhehle
Minister of Industry, Trade and Marketing--Mpho 'Mali Malie
Minister of Education--Archibald Lesao Lehohla
Minister of Communications Information, Broadcasting, Posts and Telecommunications--'Nyane Mphafi
Minister of Health and Social Welfare--Tefo Mabote
Minister of Employment and Labor--Notsi Victor Molopo
Minister of Agriculture, Cooperatives and Land Reclamation--Vova Bulane
Minister of Tourism, Sports and Culture--Hlalele Motaung
Minister of Environment, Gender and Youth Affairs--Mathabiso Lepono
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office--Sephiri Motanyane
Minister of Works and Transport--Mofelehetsi Moerane
Ambassador to the United States--Lebohang Moleko, designated July 1999
Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations--P.M. Mangoaela

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: 212-661-1690).

DEFENSE

The security forces are composed of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF) and the Lesotho Mounted Police. The LDF consists of an army, an air wing, and a newly formed paramilitary wing. The LDF is answerable to the Prime Minister through the Ministry of Defense, while the Lesotho Mounted Police report to the Minister of Home Affairs. There also is a National Security Service, Intelligence, which is directly accountable to the Prime Minister. Relations between the police and the army have been tense, and in 1997 the army was called upon to put down a serious police mutiny.

ECONOMY

Lesotho's economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and the earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. 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 earn some income through crop cultivation or animal husbandry with nearly two-thirds of 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. At the completion of the project, Lesotho should be almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and also gain income from the sale of electricity to South Africa. The World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and many other bilateral donors are financing the project.

Until the political insecurity in September 1998, Lesotho's economy had grown steadily since 1992. The riots, however, destroyed nearly 80% of commercial infrastructure in Maseru and two other major towns in the country, having a disastrous effect on the country's economy. Nonetheless, the country has completed several IMF Structural Adjustment Programs, and inflation declined substantially over the course of the 1990s. Lesotho's trade deficit, however, is quite large, with exports representing only a small fraction of imports.

Lesotho has received economic aid from a variety of sources, including the United States, the World Bank, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Germany.

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 between other member countries, which also include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, and South Africa also form a common currency and exchange control area known as the Rand Monetary Area that uses the South African Rand as the common currency. In 1980, Lesotho introduced its own currency, the loti (plural: maloti). One hundred lisente equal one loti. The Loti is at par with the Rand.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

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 Organization of African Unity, the Nonaligned Movement, and many other international organizations. In addition to the United States, South Africa, China, the United Kingdom, and the European Union all currently retain resident diplomatic missions in Lesotho.

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, established relations with Namibia, and was a strong public supporter of the end of apartheid in South Africa.

U.S.-LESOTHO RELATIONS

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 USAID now administers most of the U.S. assistance to Lesotho through SADC regional programs, although estimated U.S. assistance to Lesotho in 1998 was $400,000. The Peace Corps has operated in Lesotho since 1966. Peace Corps volunteers concentrate in the sectors of agriculture, education, rural 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

Ambassador--Katherine Peterson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Raymond Brown
Administrative/Consular Officer--Teresa Stewart
Director, Peace Corps--Carol Chappelle

The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy is P.O. Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho. Telephone: (266) 312-666, Fax: (266) 310-116. E-mail: amles@lesoff.co.za.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.

Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.

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.

Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.

Further Electronic Information

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

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