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Lesotho (11/03)


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For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Kingdom of Lesotho

Geography
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.

People
Nationality: Noun--Mosotho (sing.); Basotho (pl.) Adjective--Basotho.
Population (May 2002 est.): 2,200,100.
Annual growth rate (2001 est.): 1.6%. Note: the population growth rate is depressed by an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate estimated to be over 30%.
Ethnic groups: Basotho 99.7%; Europeans 1,600; Asians 3,000.
Religions: 90% Christian, including Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations; Others: Islam, Hindu, indigenous.
Languages: Official--Sesotho and English. Others--Zulu, Xhosa.
Education: Years compulsory--None. Literacy (1998)--71.3%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2001 est.)--92/1,000. Life expectancy (2002 est.)--44 years.
Work force (2001 est.): 704,000.

Government
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), 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 (DCP), 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 2002-2003 est.): Revenues--$273 million. Expenditures--$334 million.

Flag: Lesotho flag

Economy
GDP (2002): $1.1 billion
Annual growth rate (2002): 4%
Per capita GDP (2002): $550.
(2.8% projected for 2002) Average inflation rate (2002): 12%
Natural resources: Water, agricultural and grazing land, some diamonds and other minerals. Lesotho is an exporter of excess labor.
Agriculture (2002 est.: 19% of GDP): Products--corn, wheat, sorghum, barley, peas, beans, asparagus, wool, mohair, livestock. Arable land--11%.
Industry (2002 est.: 40% of GDP): Types-- apparel, food, beverages, handicrafts, construction, tourism.
Trade (2002): Exports--$616 million; clothing, furniture, footwear and wool. Partners--South Africa, United States, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, EU. Imports--$738 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): Primary donors--World Bank, IMF, EU, UN, UK, other bilateral donors. U.S. assistance--$400,000

HISTORY
Lesotho gained independence on October 4, 1966. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) looked 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, which was until then a ceremonial monarch. In 1987, 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 power to a democratically elected government of the BCP in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile in 1992 as an ordinary citizen. His son abdicated in his favor 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 protest in the country intensified, culminating in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in August 1998. Looting, casualties, and widespread destruction of property followed. 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.

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 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, however, opposition political parties won significant numbers of seats. Nine opposition parties hold all 40 of the proportional seats, with the BNP having the largest share (21). The LCD has 79 of the 80 constituency based seats. Although its elected members participate in the National Assembly, the BNP has launched several legal challenges to the elections; none has been successful.

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, with the Basotho National Party (BNP), Lesotho Peoples Congress, and the National Independent Party, among the 9 opposition parties represented.

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 secretary.

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

Cabinet
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education--Archibald Lesao Lehohla
Minister of Defense--Pakalitha Mosisili Minister of Foreign Affairs--Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa
Minister of Natural Resources--Monyane Moleleki
Minister of Home Affairs and Public Safety--Motsoahae Thomas Thabane
Minister of Local Government—Pontso Sekatle
Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Law and Constitutional Affairs--Refiloe Masemene Minister of Finance and Development Planning --Timothy Thahane Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture --Lebohang Ntsinyi Minister of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing--Mpho 'Mali Malie
Minister of Communications, Science, and Technology-- Mamphono Khaketla
Minister of Health and Social Welfare--Motloheloa Phooko
Minister of Employment and Labor--Clement Machakela
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security—Rakoro Phororo
Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation--Mathabiso Lepono
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office--vacant
Minister of Public Works and Transportation--Solomon Mofelehetsi Moerane
Ambassador to the United States--Molelekeng Ernestina Rapolaki
Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations—Lebohang Moleko

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 paramilitary wing. The LDF answers 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 occasionally 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 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 M 168 million ($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 over $320 million in 2002. Employment reached over 50,000, marking the first time that manufacturing sector workers outnumbered government employees. Most factories are owned by Asian investors.

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.

HIV/AIDS
According to recent estimates, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Lesotho has surpassed 30%, 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 an estimated drop in life expectancy of 30 years, to 37.

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.

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, 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 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, which totaled approximately $400,000 in 2002. The Peace Corps has operated in Lesotho since 1966. 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
Ambassador--Robert G. Loftis
Deputy Chief of Mission—Karl Albrecht
Management Officer--Robert Pitre
Consular/ Public Diplomacy/ Political Officer--Sharon Gordon Director, Peace Corps—McGrath Jean Thomas

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.

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.



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