Background Notes: Lesotho

PA/PC Source: Office of Public Communication, Bureau of Public Affairs Date: Nov 15, 199011/15/90 Category: Country Data Region: Subsaharan Africa Country: Lesotho Subject: Travel, History, International Organizations, Trade/Economics [TEXT] November 1990 Official Name: Kingdom of Lesotho


Area: 30,350 sq. km. (11,718 sq. mi.); about the size of Maryland. Cities: Capital-Maseru (pop. 109,382). Other cities-Teyateyaneng (14,251), Leribe (9,595), Mafeteng (12,667), Mohale's Hoek (8,526). 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.
Nationality: Noun-Mosotho (sing.); Basotho (pl.) Adjective-Basotho. Population (1988): 1,666,000. Annual growth rate (1987): 2.7%. Ethnic groups: Basotho 99.7%; Europeans 1,700; Asians, 900. Religions: Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations. Languages: English, Sesotho. Education: Years compulsory-None. Literacy-59%. Health: Infant mortality rate (1988)-83/1000. Life expectancy-60 years. Work force-650,000. Farming-40%. Manufacturing and services-6%. Government-4%. Migrant workers-27%. Unemployed-23%.
Type: Military regime and constitutional monarchy with king as head of state. Constitution: Suspended in 1970. Independence: October 4, 1966. Branches: Executive-Military council/civilian cabinet. Legislative- In early 1986, by decree of the ruling military council, legislative (and executive) power was concentrated in the person of the king, subject to the advice of the military council. Judicial-Court of Appeals, High Court, Magistrate Courts, Customary Courts. Administrative subdivisions: 10 districts. Political parties: By decree of the ruling military council in early 1986, political activities, but not political parties, were banned indefinitely; Basotho National Party (BNP), Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), United Democratic Party (UDP). Suffrage: Married men and women of all ages, singles over 21. No national elections since 1970. Central government budget (1988-89): $226.8 million. Public order, safety, and defense (1988-89): 18% of government budget. Flag: Diagonal fields of green and blue with a traditional Basotho shield on a diagonal field of white occupying remaining half of flag.
GNP (1988): $739 million. Annual growth rate (1987-88): 8.5%. Per capita GNP: $446. Avg. inflation rate (1988): 11.4%. Natural resources: Some diamonds and other minerals, water, agricultural and grazing land. Agriculture (20% of GDP): Products-corn, wheat sorghum, peas, beans, asparagus, meat, wool, mohair. Arable land-13%. Industry (14.6% of GDP): Types-Processing of agricultural products, handicrafts, cottage industry weaving, apparel manufacture (clothing, shoes etc.), primarily for export. Trade (1988): Exports-$60 million: wool, mohair, peas, beans, asparagus. Major markets-South Africa (approximately 85%), Europe, US. Imports-$500 million: agricultural commodities and products, manufactured goods of all types, machinery. Major suppliers-South Africa (approximately 95%), Europe. Fiscal year: April 1-March 31. Economic aid received (1987): $74 million. Primary donors-US, EEC, FRG, UK, World Bank, UNDP, Ireland. US AID-$9.6 million.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); Commonwealth, Nonaligned Movement, Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Group of 77. Regional groups: Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) of East and Southern Africa States, and the Rand Monetary Area (RMA).


Basutoland (now Lesotho-pronounced le-SOO-too) was sparsely populated by 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 (pronounced mo-SHWAY-shway) I, consolidated various Basotho groupings and became their king. During his reign (1823-1870), a series of wars with South Africa (1856-68) resulted in the loss of extensive lands, now known as the "Lost Territory." Moshoeshoe appealed to Queen Victoria for assistance, and in 1868, the country was placed under British protection. In 1955, the Basutoland Council asked that it be empowered to legislate on internal affairs, and in 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its first elected legislature. General elections with universal adult suffrage were held in April 1965. The Basutoland National Party (BNP) won 31 of 60 seats in the legislature; the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), 25 seats; and the Maramatlou Freedom Party (MFP), 4 seats. On October 4, 1966, the new Kingdom of Lesotho attained full independence as a constitutional monarchy with an elected bicameral parliament consisting of a 60-seat National Assembly and a 33-seat Senate. Early results of the January 27, 1970, election-the first held after independence-indicated that the ruling BNP might lose control. Citing election irregularities, Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan nullified the elections, declared a national state of emergency, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the parliament. An appointed interim national assembly was established in 1973. With an overwhelming progovernment majority, it was largely the instrument of the BNP, led by Prime Minister Jonathan. Opposition to the government produced violence and internal disorder which, in 1986, led to a military takeover. In addition to the Jonathan regime's alienation of Basotho power brokers and the population, South Africa had virtually closed the land borders because of concerns over African National Congress (ANC) cross-border operations and was publicly threatening more direct action if the Jonathan government did not root out ANC presence in Lesotho. Under a January 1986 Military Council decree, the state executive and legislative powers were given to the king. He was to act on the advice of the Military Council, a self-appointed group of the leaders of the Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF) who carried out the 1986 coup. All political party activity was suspended. 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 some members of the Military Council and the Council of Ministers were purged. Lekhanya accused those involved of undermining discipline within the armed forces, subverting existing authority, and causing an impasse on foreign policy which had been damaging to Lesotho's image abroad. Lekhanya announced the establishment of a National Constituent Assembly to formulate a new constitution for Lesotho with the aim of returning the country to democratic, civilian rule by June 1992. After attempts at negotiating the king's return to Lesotho failed, Lekhanya announced in November 1990 that a new law would henceforth provide that the king shall be a constitutional monarch and head of state and that King Moshoeshoe had ceased being king and head of state. Later that month, Moshoeshoe's son was installed as King Letsie III.


Lesotho is ruled by a military council and has a military/civilian cabinet. The Military Council sets broad outlines of government policy and overseas policy implementation carried out by the cabinet (Council of Ministers). Political party activity is still suspended, and there have been no national elections since 1970. By the 1986 Military Council decree, legislative and executive power had been concentrated in the person of the king, but then-King Moshoeshoe II was stripped of his powers in February 1990. The cabinet, consisting of civilians and several senior RLDF officers, had been appointed by the king. In February 1990, the military government established a task force to work out the details of democratizing the country. The task force recommended the establishment of a 109-member National Constituent Assembly representing a broad range of social and political opinion. Development of a new national constitution acceptable to the majority of the Basotho people is the major task of the assembly, but it was also charged with reviewing the position and powers of the king, the status of the traditional chieftainships, and the role of the army and political parties under a new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly convened in June 1990. 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. Lesotho's highest court is the Court of Appeals, which exercises limited appellate jurisdiction. The High Court has unlimited original jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. Subordinate courts administer statute law, and paramount chiefs administer customary tribal laws.
Principal Government Officials
Head of State-King Letsie III Head of Government and Chairman of the Military Council and Council of Ministers-Maj. Gen. Justin M. Lekhanya Military Council Members-Brig. Benedict M. Lerotholi, Col. Jacob M. Jane, Col. Elias P. Ramaema, Lt. Col. Ernest M. Mokete, Col. Michael N. Ts'otetsi Ambassador to the United States-William Thabo Van Tonder Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations-M.P. Phoofolo Lesotho maintains an embassy in the United States at 2511 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 (Tel. 202-797-5533). Lesotho's mission to the United Nations is at 204 East 39th Street, NY, NY 10016 (Tel. 212-661-1690).


The Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF) is the primary armed service in the country. Made up of about 2,000 officers and enlisted men and women, the RLDF is administratively based in the capital city Maseru with smaller tactical bases scattered throughout the country. The RLDF has six separate light infantry companies and a small composite air squadron. The RLDF's principal mission includes defense of Lesotho's borders and antiterrorist activities. It also has responsibility for crime prevention (along with the nearly 2,000 members of the Royal Lesotho Mounted Police Force) and civic action programs. The United States has an active International Military Education and Training (IMET) program with the government of Lesotho. The IMET program sends three or four RLDF officers each year to the United States in various military specialties. A three- man British army training team is assigned to Lesotho and provides a range of in-country training.


Lesotho's economy is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, and earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. The people of Lesotho live primarily in the western lowlands, the main agricultural zone. Much of the work force is employed from 3 to 9 months a year in South Africa in mining, farming, or industry. At any given time, an estimated 200,000 workers are absent from Lesotho. Remittances from workers in South Africa totaled about $235 million in 1988. About 360,000 hectares (900,000 acres-13%) of the country are arable. Grazing rights are communal, but arable land is allocated to individuals and families by village and district chiefs. Traditionally, most land was held in trust for the Basotho by the king and could not be given away. Under the 1979 Land Tenure Act, however, the king could grant 99-year leases. Almost all agricultural produce is consumed domestically, and substantial amounts of food are imported from South Africa. The Lesotho National Development Corporation encourages foreign investment. The corporation has been successful in stimulating the establishment of light industries and in attracting investment in tourist facilities, including building a $12 million hotel. Tourism is an attractive development option because of the country's scenery and healthful, pleasant climate. The three-phase Highlands Water Project agreement signed in late 1986 between the governments of South Africa and Lesotho represents one of the greatest investment and development opportunities for Lesotho in the near future. Royalties, beginning in 1995 at about $12 million and tripling in the third phase, could be directed toward substantially raising the per capita GDP. The project is a 30-year, $2 billion plan to divert water from the headwaters of several major river systems in Lesotho to the Witswatersrand region of South Africa. Spin-off activities in road building, rural agriculture, electricity generation, fishing, and tourism will also be made possible. The project will be financed by international lenders, including the World Bank, as well as by South African and Lesotho capital. Lesotho has received economic assistance from a number of sources since independence, including the United States, the World Bank, the United Kingdom, the European Economic Community, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, the Federal Republic of Germany, and South Africa. Several UN specialized agencies and programs are active in Lesotho, including the UN Development Program, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Lesotho has about 4,000 kilometers (2,400 mi) of paved, gravel, and earth roads and vehicle tracks. A 92-kilometer (57-mi.) road along Lesotho's southern border was built with the help of the US Agency for International Development (AID). Lesotho has an extensive network of horse trails for areas inaccessible to motor vehicles. The country is linked with South Africa by a short rail line from Maseru to Marseilles on the Bloemfontein-Bethlehem line. Elsewhere, the railway runs close to the territorial boundary, and goods can be transported by road to and from the nearest station in the Orange Free State. Lesotho's traditional trade routes were complicated by the October 1976 South Africa-sponsored "independence" of the Transkei, which neither Lesotho nor any other UN member recognizes and whose territory Lesotho does not wish to transit. Lesotho depends heavily on South Africa for trade as well as employment. Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, and South Africa belong to a customs union. No tariffs exist on most goods moving among them. South Africa levies and collects most of the customs, sales, and excise duties for the four countries, and it pays a share determined by a formula of total customs collections to the other three countries. Imports from outside the customs union, regardless of ultimate destination, are subject to the same tariff rates. The customs agreement was renegotiated in 1969, and Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland have substantially increased their share of the customs revenues. In 1987-88, Lesotho received approximately 54% of its total government receipts as tariff revenues from the customs union. Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, and South Africa also form a common currency and exchange control area known as the Rand Monetary Area which used the South African rand as common currency. Lesotho introduced its own currency in 1980; on a par with the South African rand is the loti (plural: maloti), and 100 lisente equal one loti.


Lesotho's geographic location and economic dependence on South Africa make it very vulnerable to political and economic developments there. Following Lesotho's January 1986 coup, the new government indicated its willingness to be more sensitive to South African security concerns and has actively sought UN High Commissioner for Refugees and third-country assistance in providing resettlement for South African refugees. Although sharply critical of apartheid, the government of Lesotho cannot avoid vital economic and commercial ties with its neighbor and depends on it for transit, employment opportunities, and development cooperation. The current regime has sought a more cooperative relationship with Pretoria. One result of this improved bilateral atmosphere was the establishment of trade missions in the two countries. Another result was the signature of an agreement in 1986 to proceed with the long-planned Highlands Water Project. Lesotho maintains very close relations with the United States, the United Kingdom, the Federal Republic of Germany, and other Western countries. It also has excellent ties with a number of African states and is particularly close to Nigeria. In 1983, Lesotho began to diversify its international contacts. Following former Prime Minister Jonathan's May 1983 visit to Eastern Europe and Asia, the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China (PRC), and North Korea were permitted to open embassies in Maseru. Formal diplomatic relations with most East European countries have since been established, although only the Soviet Union has opened a resident diplomatic mission in Lesotho. Following the 1986 coup, the North Korean embassy was closed, and regular diplomatic contact was suspended. In 1990, Lesotho broke relations with the PRC and reestablished relations with Taiwan. Other recent foreign policy initiatives have included recognition of Palestine as a state, the establishment of relations with Western Sahara and Namibia, and strong public support for negotiations in South Africa aimed at creating a new, post- apartheid society. Lesotho remains active in the United Nations, Organization of African Unity, the Nonaligned Movement, and other international organizations. It also belongs to the Southern African Development Coordination Conference, whose purpose is to lessen the dependence of its members on neighboring South Africa, and to the Preferential Trade Area, an association of East and southern African states.


The United States has friendly relations with Lesotho and encourages the country's political, economic, and social development as a nonracial, democratic, independent nation. Estimated US assistance to Lesotho for fiscal year 1989 was: AID, $9.6 million; PL 480 (Food For Peace), $5.2 million; and Peace Corps, 100 volunteers. AID programs in Lesotho have focused principally on agriculture, primary education, child survival, family planning and private sector development. Peace Corps volunteers work in secondary school education-especially in mathematics and science curriculum development-vocational training, teacher training, horticulture, animal husbandry, health education, community and rural development, and employment generation projects.
Principal US Officials
Ambassador-Vacant Deputy Chief of Mission-Steven Wagenseil Administrative Officer-Mike St. Clair Consular Officer-Alan Hutchings Public Affairs Office (USIS)-Douglas Ebner (Tel: 312335) Director, AID-Furman Towery (Tel: 313954) Director, Peace Corps-Kim Ward (Tel: 313871) The mailing address of the US Embassy is PO Box 333, Maseru 100, Lesotho (Tel: 312666, Fax: 266-310-116, Telex: 4506 USAID LO).


Climate and clothing: Light summer wear is suitable from October to May. Winter clothing is needed from June to September. Entry requirements: Americans traveling to Lesotho can obtain visas on arrival. However, all routes to Lesotho pass through South Africa, and travelers without a South African multiple entry visitor's visa are not permitted to leave the international area while transiting Johannesburg's Jan Smuts Airport. A transit visa is not acceptable for entry into South Africa. The airport has inexpensive, poor-quality hotel rooms to accommodate those who remain overnight to make onward connections. Tourist attractions: These include pony trekking, horseback riding, hiking, and trout fishing. Skiing in winter months is sometimes possible. The mountain scenery is striking, and lodge facilities are available in most mountain tourist areas. Health: Tapwater is generally safe in the Maseru area, but it is recommended that water be boiled and filtered. Medical facilities in Maseru are adequate for emergency treatment; more extensive facilities are in Bloemfontein, South Africa, 140 km. (81 mi.) away. South Africa's more cosmopolitan areas, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, have nonracial medical facilities. Telecommunications: Telephone and telegraphic service is available in and between the more populated areas of Lesotho, but much of the interior can only be reached by radio. Lesotho is six standard time zones ahead of eastern standard time. The country does not observe daylight-saving time. Transportation: Maseru is a short flight from Johannesburg. Lesotho Airways operates daily commercial flights to and from Johannesburg and weekly to Botswana. Royal Swazi Airways flies to and from Maputo, Mozambique, by way of Manzini, Swaziland. A new international airport is located 12 miles outside of Maseru. Airstrips are located at Mokhotlong, Leribe, Mohale's Hoek, Thaba Tseka, and Qacha's Nek. There are 28 other secondary landing fields suitable only for light aircraft. Maseru has few taxis. Traffic moves on the left. Car rental agencies are available. Published by the United States Department of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public Communication -- Washington, DC. November 1990 -- Editor: Marilyn J. Bremner Department of State Publication 8091 -- Background Notes Series - - This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, US Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.(###)