Country profile Lesotho

Map of Lesotho

Map of Lesotho

The kingdom of Lesotho consists mainly of highlands, where many of the villages can only be reached by horseback, foot or small plane.

Resources are scarce – a result of the harsh environment of the highland plateau and limited agricultural space in the lowlands.

The former British protectorate has been heavily dependent on the country that completely surrounds it – South Africa.

Over the decades, thousands of workers have been forced to find work in South Africa’s mines due to underemployment.

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project was completed in the 1990s to export water to South Africa.

Lesotho has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, with one in five adults living with HIV, and more infections per 100,000 people than most other countries, including neighboring Namibia, Botswana and Eswatini.

  • Capital city: Maseru

  • Area: 30,355 square kilometers

  • Population: 2.2 million

  • languages: Sesotho, English

  • Life expectancy: 51 years old (men) 57 years old (women)

Head of State: King Letsie III

King Letsie III of Lesotho

King Letsie III of Lesotho

King Letsie III succeeded his father, King Moshoeshoe II, who was dethroned in 1990.

Five years later, after returning to civilian rule and amid political instability, he abdicated and his father was reinstated as monarch.

Letsie III was reinstated as king in 1996 after his father was killed in a car accident. The monarch has no legislative or executive power.

Prime Minister: Sam Matekane

Lesotho Revolution for Prosperity party (RFP) leader and Lesotho Prime Minister Sam Matekane

Lesotho Revolution for Prosperity party (RFP) leader and Lesotho Prime Minister Sam Matekane

Diamond magnate and politician Sam Matekane became prime minister after winning the October 2022 election, just seven months after founding his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party.

He himself financed a political campaign that had a strong presence on social media. His party won 56 of the 120 seats in the National Assembly.

He campaigned on a platform to end Lesotho’s recent political instability. He says his priority is to tackle corruption – “to eradicate it completely” – to restore the country’s economy and to “depoliticize” the country’s security forces.

The outgoing prime minister, Moeketsi Majoro, had become prime minister in May 2020 following the resignation of veteran leader Thomas Thabane, who had been named as a suspect in the murder of his own ex-wife.

Man rides a donkey in Lesotho

Man rides a donkey in Lesotho

Radio is the most popular medium. In addition to domestic sockets, South African radio and TV stations can be received.

1820s – Basutoland founded by Moshoeshoe, uniting different groups to fend off challenges from Zulus.

1834 – Territorial encroachment by Boer tractors begins decades of conflict.

1860s – Becomes a British protectorate.

1871 – Incorporated into the Cape Colony without permission.

1884 – Becomes a British colony after revolting against Cape Colonial rule. Paramount chiefs retain a high degree of autonomy.

1966 – Independence as Kingdom of Lesotho, with Moshoeshoe II as king and Chief Leabua Jonathan (Basotho National Party) as prime minister.

1998 – Troops from the region restore order after controversial elections.

2004 – Official opening of the first phase of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project.

Lesotho's Katse Dam, part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project

The Lesotho Highlands Water Project provides water for South Africa’s industrial heartland

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