March 6, 2012

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Area: 30,355 sq. km. (11,718 sq. mi.), about the size of Maryland.
Cities: Capital--Maseru (173,700). Other cities--Leribe (35,000), Mafeteng (32,900), Teyateyaneng (22,800), 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.

Nationality: Noun--Mosotho (sing.); Basotho (pl.). Adjective--Basotho.
Population (2011 est.): 1,924,886.
Annual population growth rate (2011 est.): 0.332%. (Note: the population growth rate is depressed by an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate estimated to be 23%.)
Ethnic groups: Basotho 99.7%; Europeans, Asians, and other (including Xhosa) 0.3%.
Religions: 90% Christian, including Roman Catholic (majority), Lesotho Evangelical, Anglican, other denominations; 9% indigenous beliefs; other religions include Islam and Hindu.
Languages: Official--Sesotho and English. Other--Xhosa, Zulu.
Education: Years compulsory--7 (ages 6-13). Lesotho has free primary education (grades 1-7). Literacy (2011 est.)--85%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2011 est.)--55/1,000. Life expectancy (2011 est.)--52.41 years.
Work force (2007 est.): 854,600.

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: Democratic Congress (DC, newly formed in February 2012), Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP), Lesotho Peoples Congress (LPC), National Independent Party (NIP), Basutoland Congress Party (BCP), Lesotho Workers Party (LWP), Popular Front for Democracy (PFD), Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP), Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP), Basotho Batho Democratic Party (BBDP), Senkatana Party (SP), All Democratic Corporation (ADC), and African Unity Movement (AUM).
Suffrage: 18 years of age.
Central government budget (2011 est.): Revenues--$1.233 billion. Expenditures--$1.603 billion.

GDP (2011 est.): $2.7 billion.
Annual growth rate (2011 est.): 3.5%.
Per capita GDP (2011 est.): $1,400.
Average inflation rate (2011 est.): 7.2%.
Natural resources: Water, agricultural and grazing land, some diamonds and other minerals. Lesotho is an exporter of excess labor.
Agriculture (2011 est.): 8.0% of GDP. Products--corn, wheat, sorghum, pulses, barley, peas, beans, mushrooms, wool, mohair, livestock. Arable land--11%, of which 77% is cultivated.
Industry (2011 est.): 34.2% of GDP. Types--textiles, apparel assembly, food, beverages, handicrafts, construction, tourism.
Services (2011 est.): 57.3% of GDP.
Trade (2011 est.): Exports--$979 million. Types--clothing, furniture, footwear, live animals, and wool. Partners--South Africa, United States, Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, EU, Madagascar. Imports (2011 est.)--$2.34 billion. Types--food, clothing, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, petroleum products. Partners--South Africa, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Europe, United States.
Fiscal year: April 1 - March 31.
Economic aid received (2008): $306 million. Primary donors--U.S., World Bank, IMF, EU, UN, and Ireland.

More than 99% of Lesotho's population is ethnically Basotho; other ethnic groups include Europeans, Asians, and Xhosa. The country's population is 90% Christian, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic. Other religions are Islam, Hindu, and indigenous beliefs. Sesotho and English are official languages, and other languages spoken include Xhosa.

Lesotho gained independence from Britain on October 4, 1966. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) appeared 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 the BNP government out of office. The Military Council that came into power granted executive powers to King Moshoeshoe II, who was until then a ceremonial monarch. In 1990, 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 over power to a democratically elected government of the BCP in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile in 1992 as an ordinary citizen. After the return to democratic government, King Letsie III tried unsuccessfully to persuade the BCP government to reinstate his father (Moshoeshoe II) as head of state. In August 1994, Letsie III staged a coup which was backed by the military and deposed the BCP government. The new government did not receive full international recognition. Member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) engaged in negotiations aimed at the reinstatement of the BCP government. One of the conditions put forward by the King for the return of the BCP government was that his father should be re-installed as head of state. After protracted negotiations, the BCP government was reinstated and the King abdicated in favor of his father 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 (MPs), 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 protests in the country intensified, culminating in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in August 1998. 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. Looting, casualties, and widespread destruction of property followed.

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 would 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. However, for the first time, due to the inclusion of proportional seats, opposition political parties won significant numbers of seats. The February 2007 elections resulted in another LCD victory. While acknowledging the LCD victory, opposition parties continued to assert that some of the proportional seats were allocated incorrectly. Nine parties held all 40 of the proportional seats. The National Independent Party (NIP) formed an “informal alliance” with the LCD, leading to its share of 21, the largest of any minority party.

The 2007 elections remained an active point of contention for years. Opposition parties called for the reallocation of seats, revision of the electoral law, and formal designation of a leader of opposition. The Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) began mediating the conflict in 2009. Little progress was made until early 2011. In a major breakthrough, the CCL, with the assistance of an expert facilitated by the UN Development Program (UNDP), held a meeting in which all parties agreed on the amendments to be made to the proposed electoral bill. All parties also agreed to use a single-ballot system in future elections, eliminating the possibility of the contentious informal alliances of 2007.

On April 22, 2009, a failed assassination attempt was made on Prime Minister Mosisili at his residence. Two suspects were arrested in Lesotho, and seven suspects were arrested in South Africa. Those seven were handed over to Lesotho authorities on April 19, 2011, following a prolonged extradition process. The suspected mastermind and financier of the attempted coup is in South Africa awaiting his extradition process. The eight suspects (one died of natural causes in custody) are on trial, facing charges of murder, attempted murder, robbery, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, contravention of the Internal Security Act of Lesotho, and conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister.

After a year of internal LCD fighting, Prime Minister Mosisili fired the Communications Minister and the Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office in late January 2012. In February 2012, the Prime Minister and 44 supporters abandoned the LCD but remain in power with a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC). Of the 80 constituency-based seats, the DC now controls 45, the LCD 21, and the All Basotho Convention (ABC) 11. On February 29, parliament passed a symbolic motion of confidence in the Prime Minister as the opposition parties walked out in protest. Parliament’s term ends on March 15, and national elections must follow within 90 days.

The Lesotho Government is a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister is head of government and has executive authority. The King serves a largely ceremonial function; he does not actively participate in political initiatives.

The newly-formed Democratic Congress controls a majority in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament), with the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, the All Basotho Convention, the National Independent Party, and the Lesotho Workers Party among the 11 opposition parties represented. Parliamentary elections are due to take place in May 2012. The upper house of parliament, called the Senate, is composed of 22 principal chiefs, whose membership is hereditary, and 11 other members appointed by the ruling party.

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 administrator.

Lesotho held its first post-independence local government elections in 2005 using a quota system that reserved one-third of electoral divisions for women candidates. In these elections, 53% of the victorious candidates were women. Locally-elected officials attended post-election training while the National Assembly created regulations for local governance and the Ministry of Local Government built supporting infrastructure. The most recent local government elections took place in October 2011, when the then-ruling party, Lesotho Congress for Democracy, won 69 of the 77 contested councils.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Letsie III

Prime Minister--Pakalitha Mosisili
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs and Public Safety and of Parliamentary Affairs--Archibald Lesao Lehohla
Minister of Defense--Pakalitha Mosisili (also Prime Minister)
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations--Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa
Minister of Education and Training--Mamphono Khaketla
Minister of Natural Resources--Monyane Moleleki
Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs--Pontso Sekatle
Minister of Justice, Human Rights and Correctional Services, and of Law and Constitutional Affairs--Mpeo Mahase-Moiloa
Minister of Finance and Development Planning--Timothy Thahane
Minister of Tourism, Environment, and Culture--Mannete Ramaili
Minister of Public Service--Ramootsi Mokone Lehata
Minister of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing--Leketekete Ketso
Minister of Communications, Science, and Technology--vacant
Minister of Health and Social Welfare--Mphu Ramatlapeng
Minister of Employment and Labor--'Maphoka Motoboli
Minister of Agriculture and Food Security--Lincoln Ralechate 'Mokose
Minister of Gender, Youth, Sports, and Recreation--Mathabiso Lepono
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office--vacant
Minister of Public Works and Transportation--Semano Sekatle
Minister of Forestry and Land Reclamation--Kabelo Mafura

Ambassador to the United States--Eliachim Molapi Sebatane
Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations--Motlatsi Ramafole

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).

Lesotho's economy is based on water and electricity sold to South Africa, manufacturing, receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), agriculture, livestock, and to some extent, earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. Lesotho also exports diamonds, wool, and mohair. Lesotho is geographically surrounded by and economically integrated with South Africa. The western lowlands form the main agricultural zone. The majority of households subsist on farming or migrant labor, and approximately 86% of the population relies, at least in part, on crop cultivation or animal husbandry. In 2011, agriculture accounted for an estimated 8.0% of GDP.

Water is Lesotho's most 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 Province and greater Johannesburg area, which features a large concentration of South African industry, population, and agriculture. Completion of the first phase of the project allows Lesotho to generate approximately 80% of the electricity it consumes annually and earn approximately $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 a major exporter of garments to the U.S. from sub-Saharan Africa. Exports to the U.S. under AGOA totaled $314 million in 2011, and the sector employs approximately 35,000 workers. Taiwanese and Indian investors own most factories.

Lesotho has received economic aid from a variety of sources, including the United States, the World Bank, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Germany, and the People's Republic of China.

Lesotho has nearly 7,000 kilometers of unpaved and modern all-weather roads. There is a short rail line (freight) linking the capital city of Maseru with Bloemfontein, South Africa that is owned and operated by South Africa (the half-mile trunk inside Lesotho is operated by Lesotho Flour Mills, Ltd.). Lesotho is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) in which tariffs have been eliminated on the trade of goods with other member countries, which include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. With the exception of Botswana, these countries also form a common currency and exchange control area known as the Common Monetary Area (CMA). The South African rand can be used interchangeably with the loti, the Lesotho currency (plural: maloti). One hundred lisente equal one loti. The loti is at par with the rand.

According to recent estimates, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Lesotho is 23%, the third-highest in the world. In 1999, the government finalized its National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS, a diagram for addressing the education, prevention, counseling, and treatment needs of the populace. In 2000, Lesotho declared a national emergency as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 2003 the Government of Lesotho hosted a SADC Extraordinary Summit on HIV/AIDS. In 2005 legislation was passed to create the National AIDS Commission to coordinate society-wide anti-AIDS activities, which was followed by the launching of a national "Know Your Status" campaign aimed at achieving 100% testing and counseling of all Basotho. A partnership framework that is aligned with the National Strategic Plan was signed in August 2009 by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Government of Lesotho.

The donor community is collaborating with the Government of Lesotho in a massive effort to address the HIV epidemic. Key international stakeholders include PEPFAR, UN agencies, Irish AID, other international donors, and dozens of non-governmental organizations.

The security force is composed of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF--estimated 3,000 personnel) and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS--estimated 3,000-4,000 personnel). The LDF consists of an army and an air wing. The LDF reports to the Prime Minister (who is the Minister of Defense and National Security), while the Lesotho Mounted Police Service reports to the Minister of Home Affairs. There also is a National Security Service (NSS) for 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. The situation was defused, relations have since normalized, and the two institutions cooperate as necessary.

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 African Union, the Nonaligned Movement, the Commonwealth, and many other international organizations. In addition to the United States, South Africa, China, Libya, Ireland, and the European Union all currently maintain 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, European Union member states, and other Western countries. Although Lesotho decided in 1990 to break relations with the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) and reestablish relations with Taiwan, in 1993 the nation restored ties with the P.R.C. Lesotho also recognizes Palestine as a state, was a strong public supporter of the end of apartheid in South Africa, and granted a number of South African refugees political asylum during the apartheid era.

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 that time, Lesotho and the United States have consistently maintained productive bilateral relations. In 1996, the United States closed its resident bilateral aid program in Lesotho. In 2007, however, the Government of Lesotho signed a compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation to provide $362.5 million in support for 5 years to develop Lesotho's water, healthcare infrastructure, and private sector. The compact entered into force in September 2008. An in-country program to support PEPFAR was established in 2005 and also includes representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Centers for Disease Control. The Peace Corps has operated in Lesotho since 1966. About 60 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--Michele Thoren Bond
Deputy Chief of Mission--Carl Fox
Management Officer--Michael Warren
Consular Officer--Scott Schlossberg
Economic and Political Officer--Alexander Sharp
Public Diplomacy Officer--Nina Lewis
General Services Officer--Spencer Maguire
Information Management Officer--Ray Jarman
Regional Security Officer--Justin Smith
Director, Peace Corps--Kathy Jacquart-Dill
Resident Country Director, MCC--Gene McDonald
Country Director, CDC--James Creighton
Country Director, USAID--Macarena Garcia

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:

[This is a mobile copy of Lesotho (03/06/12)]

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