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Lesotho officially the Kingdom of Lesotho is a landlocked country and enclave entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. Formerly Basutoland, it is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Background History

Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the UK in 1966. The Basuto National Party ruled the country during its first two decades. King Moshoeshoe was exiled in 1990, but returned to Lesotho in 1992 and was reinstated in 1995 and subsequently succeeded by his son, King Letsie III, in 1996. Constitutional government was restored in 1993 after seven years of military rule. In 1998, violent protests and a military mutiny following a contentious election prompted a brief but bloody intervention by South African and Batswana military forces under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community. Subsequent constitutional reforms restored relative political stability. Peaceful parliamentary elections were held in 2002, but the National Assembly elections of February 2007 were hotly contested and aggrieved parties disputed how the electoral law was applied to award proportional seats in the Assembly. In May 2012, competitive elections involving 18 parties saw Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane form a coalition government - the first in the country's history - that ousted the 14-year incumbent, Pakalitha Mosisili, who peacefully transferred power the following month.




Country Name:

  • conventional long form: Kingdom of Lesotho
  • conventional short form: Lesotho
  • former: Basutoland


  • name: Maseru
  • geographic coordinates: 29 19 S, 27 29 E
  • time difference: UTC+2 (7 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)


  • 4 October 1966 (from the UK)

Government Type:

  • parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Executive Branch:

  • chief of state: King Letsie III (since 7 February 1996)
  • head of government: Prime Minister Motsoahae Thomas Thabane (since 8 June 2012)
  • elections: the leader of the majority party, or coalition of parties, in the Assembly automatically becomes prime minister; the monarchy is hereditary, but, under the terms of the constitution that came into effect after the March 1993 election, the monarch is a "living symbol of national unity" with no executive or legislative powers; under traditional law, the college of chiefs has the power to depose the monarch, determine next in line of succession or shall serve as regent in the event that the successor is not of mature age

Legislative Branch:

  • structure: bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate and the Assembly

Judicial Branch:

  • structure: High Court; Court of Appeal, Magistrate Courts, customary or traditional courts


People & Society


  • 1,942,008 (global rank: 149)
  • growth rate: 0.34% (global rank: 167)


  • noun: Mosotho (singular), Basotho (plural)
  • adjective: Basotho

Major Cities:

  • Maseru (capital): 239,000

Ethnic Groups:

  • Sotho 99.7%, Europeans, Asians, and other 0.3%


  • Christian 80%, indigenous beliefs 20%


  • Sesotho (official) (southern Sotho), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa

Life Expectancy at Birth:

  • total population: 52.65 years (global rank: 211)
  • male: 52.55 years
  • female: 52.75 years

Infant Mortality:

  • total population: 50.48 deaths/1,000 live births (global rank: 37)
  • male: 54.38 deaths/1,000 live births
  • female: 46.45 deaths/1,000 live births


  • adult prevalence rate: 23.1% (2012 est.) (global rank: 2)
  • people living with AIDS: 358,700 (2012 est.) (global rank: 20)


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 89.6%
  • male: 83.3%
  • female: 95.6%



Overview: Small, mountainous, and completely landlocked by South Africa, Lesotho is a least developed country in which about three-fourths of the people live in rural areas and engage in subsistence agriculture. Lesotho produces less than 20% of the nation's demand for food. Rain-fed agriculture is vulnerable to weather and climate variability; an estimated 725,500 people will require food assistance in 2012/13. The distribution of income in Lesotho remains inequitable. Lesotho relies on South Africa for much of its economic activity. Lesotho imports 90% of the goods it consumes from South Africa, including most agricultural inputs. Households depend heavily on remittances from family members working in South Africa, in mines, on farms and as domestic workers, though mining employment has declined substantially since the 1990s. Government revenue depends heavily on transfers from South Africa. Customs duties from the Southern Africa Customs Union accounted for 44% of government revenue in 2012. The South African Government also pays royalties for water transferred to South Africa from a dam and reservoir system in Lesotho. However, the government continues to strengthen its tax system to reduce dependency on customs duties and other transfers. Access to credit remains a problem for the private sector. The government maintains a large presence in the economy - government consumption accounted for 39% of GDP in 2013 and the government remains Lesotho's largest employer. Lesotho's largest private employer is the textile and garment industry - approximately 36,000 Basotho, mainly women, work in factories producing garments for export to South Africa and the US. Diamond mining in Lesotho has grown in recent years and may contribute 8.5% to GDP by 2015, according to current forecasts. Lesotho's $362.5 million Millennium Challenge Account Compact, which focused on strengthening the healthcare system, developing the private sector, and providing access to improved water supplies and sanitation facilities, will end in September 2013. Despite the 2008/09 global economic crisis, the economy has had strong, but declining growth since 2010.

Gross Domestic Product:

  • GDP (PPP): $4.265 billion (global rank: 175)
  • GDP per capita (PPP): $2,200 (global rank: 192)
  • real growth rate: 4.1% (global rank: 75)
  • composition by sector: agriculture: 7.4%, industry: 34.5%, services: 58.2%


  • currency: Lesotho Maloti (LSL)
  • exchange rate (per US Dollar): 9.575


  • unemployment rate: 25%
  • population below poverty line: 49%

Agricultural Products:

  • corn, wheat, pulses, sorghum, barley; livestock


  • food, beverages, textiles, apparel assembly, handicrafts, construction, tourism

Export Commodities:

  • manufactures (clothing, footwear), wool and mohair, food and live animals, electricity, water, diamonds

Import Commodities:

  • food; building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, petroleum products




  • Southern Africa, an enclave of South Africa


  • total: 30,355 sq km (global rank: 142)
  • land: 30,355 sq km
  • water: 0 sq km
  • comparative: slightly smaller than Maryland


  • temperate; cool to cold, dry winters; hot, wet summers

Land Use:

  • arable land: 10.14%
  • permanent crops: 0.13%
  • other: 89.72%

Natural Resources:

  • water, agricultural and grazing land, diamonds, sand, clay, building stone

Current Environmental Issues:

  • population pressure forcing settlement in marginal areas results in overgrazing, severe soil erosion, and soil exhaustion; desertification; Highlands Water Project controls, stores, and redirects water to South Africa


Transnational Issues

  • international disputes: South Africa has placed military units to assist police operations along the border of Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique to control smuggling, poaching, and illegal migration
  • human trafficking: Lesotho is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and for men subjected to forced labor; Basotho women and children are subjected to domestic servitude and children, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation within Lesotho and South Africa; some Basotho women willingly migrate to South Africa seeking work in domestic service only to be forced into prostitution; some Basotho men who voluntarily migrate to South Africa for work become victims of forced labor in agriculture and mining or are coerced into committing crimes

Published: Monday, March 30, 2015