The Kingdom of Lesotho is made up mostly of highlands, where many of the villages can be reached only on horseback, by foot or light aircraft.
Resources are scarce – a consequence 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 which completely surrounds it – South Africa.
Over the decades thousands of workers have been forced by the lack of job opportunities to find work at South African mines.
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 neighbouring Namibia, Botswana and Eswatini.
Area: 30,355 sq km
Population: 2.2 million
Languages: Sesotho, English
Life expectancy: 51 years (men) 57 years (women)
Head of state: King Letsie III
King Letsie III succeeded his father, King Moshoeshoe II, who was dethroned in 1990.
Five years later, after the return to civilian government and amid political instability, he abdicated and his father was reinstated as monarch.
Letsie III was restored as king in 1996 after his father died in a car accident. The monarch has no legislative or executive powers.
Prime minister: Sam Matekane
Diamond magnate-turned-politician Sam Matekane became prime minster after winning October 2022 elections, just seven months after founding his Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) party.
He self-funded a political campaign which had a heavy social media presence. His party won 56 out of the 120 seats in the National Assembly.
He campaigned on a platform of halting Lesotho’s recent political instability. He says his priority will be dealing with corruption – “rooting it out completely” – turning around the country’s economy as well as “de-politicising” the country’s security forces.
The outgoing prime minster, Moeketsi Majoro, had taken over as prime minister in May 2020, after the resignation of veteran leader Thomas Thabane, who had been named as a suspect in the murder of his own ex-wife.
Radio is the most-popular medium. As well as domestic outlets, South African radio and TV stations can be received.
1820s – Basutoland founded by Moshoeshoe, who unites various groups to repel challenges from Zulus.
1834 – Territorial encroachment by Boer trekkers starts decades of conflict.
1860s – Becomes a British protectorate.
1871 – Annexed to the Cape Colony without people’s consent.
1884 – Becomes a British colony after revolt against Cape Colonial rule. Paramount chiefs retain large 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 following disputed elections.
2004 – Official opening of first phase of Lesotho Highlands Water Project.
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