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 for the 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 Botswana 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 continue to dispute how the electoral law was applied to award proportional seats in the Assembly.


Country Name:

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


  • name: Maseru
  • population: 220,000
  • 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 Latsie III (since 7 February 1996)
  • head of government: Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili (since 23 May 1998)
  • elections: according to the constitution, the leader of the majority party in the Assembly automatically becomes prime minister; the monarchy is hereditary, but under the terms of the constitution, the monarch is a "living symbol of national unity" with no executive or legislative powers

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


  • 1,930,493 (global rank: 148)
  • growth rate: 0.332% (global rank: 164)


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

Major Cities:

  • Maseru (capital): 220,000

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: 51.86 years (global rank: 213)
  • male: 51.77 years
  • female: 51.95 years

Infant Mortality:

  • total population: 53.44 deaths/1,000 live births (global rank: 40)
  • male: 57.58 deaths/1,000 live births
  • female: 49.17 deaths/1,000 live births

HIV/AIDS (2009 est.):

  • adult prevalence rate: 23.6% (global rank: 3)
  • people living with AIDS: 290,000 (global rank: 20)


  • definition: age 15 and over can read and write
  • total population: 84.8%
  • male: 74.5%
  • female: 94.5%


Small, landlocked, and mountainous, Lesotho relies on remittances from Basotho employed in South Africa, customs duties from the Southern Africa Customs Union (SACU), and export revenue for the majority of government revenue. However, the government has recently strengthened its tax system to reduce dependency on customs duties. Completion of a major hydropower facility in January 1998 permitted the sale of water to South Africa and generated royalties for Lesotho. Lesotho produces about 90% of its own electrical power needs. As the number of mineworkers has declined steadily over the past several years, a small manufacturing base has developed based on farm products that support the milling, canning, leather, and jute industries, as well as an apparel-assembly sector. Despite Lesotho's market-based economy being heavily tied to its neighbor South Africa, the US is an important trade partner because of the export sector's heavy dependence on apparel exports. Exports have grown significantly because of the trade benefits contained in the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. Most of the labor force is engaged in subsistence agriculture, especially livestock herding, although drought has decreased agricultural activity. The extreme inequality in the distribution of income remains a major drawback. Lesotho has signed an Interim Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility with the IMF. In July 2007, Lesotho signed a Millennium Challenge Account Compact with the US worth $362.5 million. Economic growth dropped in 2009, due mainly to the effects of the global economic crisis as demand for the country's exports declined and SACU revenue fell precipitously when South Africa - the primary contributor to the SACU revenue pool - went into recession, but growth returned to 3.6% in 2010 and 5.2% in 2011.

Gross Domestic Product:

  • GDP (PPP): $3.672 billion (global rank: 173)
  • GDP per capita (PPP): $1,400 (global rank: 200)
  • real growth rate: 5.2% (global rank: 63)
  • composition by sector: agriculture: 8.4%, industry: 34.2%, services: 57.3%


  • currency: Lesotho Maloti (LSL)
  • exchange rate (per US Dollar): 7.3


  • unemployment rate: 45%
  • population below poverty line: 49%

Agricultural Products:

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


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

Export Commodities:

  • manufactures 75% (clothing, footwear, road vehicles), wool and mohair, food and live animals

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: 10.25%
  • permanent crops: 0.81%
  • other: 88.94%

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: none

Published: Thursday, September 04, 2008