The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small, mountainous and landlocked country, completely surrounded by South Africa. It is classified as one of the Least Developed Countries and has a per capita income of $1879 (PPP) and a Gini coefficient of 0.52. National poverty figures indicate that 57.1% of the population lives below the national poverty line. With the third highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, average life expectancy stands at 48.7 years. The silver lining is that literacy rates are high at 80.9% for men and 96.9% for women in the age group of 15-49 years. The higher literacy rates for women are because women are better represented in the education system, while men tend to livestock and subsistence farming from an early age.
The population of Lesotho is 1.9 million with an annual growth rate of 0.9%. The country is very young demographically and predominantly rural (close to 75%). The rural population mostly depends on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Owing to low agricultural productivity and with only 10% of its land surface available for arable agriculture, the country relies heavily on imports from South Africa. Excessive dependence on the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU) receipts, reliance on miners’ remittances and textile exports to the United States continues to make the country vulnerable to external setbacks. Revenues from SACU finance a significant portion of the national budget; 53% in 2012-13, 42% in 2013-14 and an expected 48% in 2014-15. Lesotho exceeded the per capita GNI target of USD 600 by 2010, and is expected to reach an annual GDP growth target of 7% for 2016-20. The economy grew by an estimated 4.3% (real GDP) in 2013.
The national Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Status Report 2013 reveals that the progress towards the MDGs is mixed. Achievements in primary education and gender are strong with a net enrolment rate of 82% in 2010 and a higher rate of female attendance than male attendance at secondary and tertiary schooling. Lesotho is ranked first in Africa and sixteenth in the world on bridging the gap between the sexes, and has adopted several gender-sensitive laws. However, other MDGs are off-track or making slow progress with particular challenges in health, manifested in high maternal and infant/child mortality. The MDG Acceleration Framework (MAF) focusing on MDG 5: Improve Maternal Health, aims at helping the country analyse why it is lagging behind in this area, prioritize the bottlenecks to progress and identify collaborative solutions for the Government and development stakeholders.
The Basotho nation emerged in 1818 when King Moshoeshoe (1786-1870) formed an alliance with an amalgam of clans and chiefdoms of Southern Sotho people who occupied the area which is presently the Northern and Eastern Free State and Western Lesotho from about 1400AD. In 1824 attacks by the Tlokoa clan revealed weaknesses in the Butha-Buthe fortress that the Basotho were occupying, which led to a move to the plateau known today as historic site Thaba-Bosiu. The arrival of the Missionaries in 1833, which was also the arrival of potatoes, wheat, fruit trees, domestic animals, new schools and printed books in the Sesotho languages, was a pivotal moment in the history of the Basotho.
Lesotho went through many political developments during the period of 1833-1868, during which Moshoeshoe’s statesmanship and diplomacy saved the Basotho nation from extinction in wars with the Kora, the Amangwane, the Ndebele and the Batlokoa among others. Mainly for protection in other lands wars, Lesotho became an official British protectorate in 1868. Not long after this, in 1870, King Moshoeshoe I died.
Following the rule of different traditional chiefs, around 1960 a new nationalist movement led by commoner Ntsu Mokhehle emerged. Mokhehle was an educated and articulate leader of the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), which set the political agenda for the 1950s. Chiefs also formed their own party in the face of the threat of the BCP to democratize chieftainship, and under the leadership of Chief Leabua Jonathan the Basotho National Party (BNP) was formed.
In 1963 the Constitutional Review Commission approved a Westminster style government, which saw King Moshoeshoe II enjoying few powers. This meant 60 seats to be elected by adult suffrage in the Lower House, and the Senate would consist of 22 Principal and Ward chiefs and 11 monarch nominated members. The Constitution, meanwhile, received support from Britain and elections for the first government were held in 1965 with independence following in 1966.
The post-independence period saw alternation of power between BNP and BCP. Following a military led overthrow of the BNP government in 1986, the country was under military rule until 1993 when the King was given executive powers and political parties were banned. Long-awaited general elections were held in March 1993 after revision of the Constitution – the result was a landslide victory by BCP. The BCP ruled until a split led to the formation of Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) ahead of the controversial 1998 elections. LCD won the 2002 and 2007 elections, finally splitting ahead of the 2012 elections forming the breakaway Democratic Congress, led by the outgoing Prime Minister.
In May 2012 the results of the general elections led to formation of the first-ever coalition government by three parties: All Basotho Convention (ABC), Basotho National Party (BNP) and Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD). This tripartite coalition currently rules Lesotho.
The King is the Head of State and Principal Chiefs are responsible for different districts in the country.