Kingdom of Lesotho
Muso oa Lesotho



Formerly called Basutoland, Lesotho is a small, landlocked, and mountainous state in southern Africa. The total area of 30,355 square kilometers (11,718 square miles) is a geographic enclave completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. There are no large lakes or direct access to the sea. This is the only country in the world where all the terrain is 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level. The westward tilting highland plateau descends from steep basaltic ridges into deep gorges and treeless rolling lowlands. The confluence of the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers form the lowest point (1,400 meters/4,593 feet), while Thabana Nitlenyana is the highest peak (3,482 meters/11,424 feet). The 3 large rivers, the Orange, the Caledon, and the Tugela, all rise in the mountains. Most of the population lives in a fertile 30 to 65 kilometers (18 to 40 miles) strip of lowland adjacent to the Caledon River in northwest Lesotho, where the capital of Maseru (population 386,000) is located.

Positioned in the Southern Hemisphere, the kingdom enjoys a temperate climate with 300 days of annual sunshine and well marked seasons that vary significantly with elevation. The cool lowland winters last from May to July and become very cold in the mountainous center of the country where freezing temperatures occur most evenings. Summer extends from November to January, when the lowland daytime temperatures frequently exceed 37°C (100°F). About 85 percent of the rain falls from October to April, when snow blankets the highlands. Periodic droughts, lowland flooding, and deadly lightning strikes are the main climate hazards.


The 2000 population of 2.1 million was an increase of 6.5 percent since 1990. There are 33.4 live births per 1,000 population, countered by a death rate average of 12.7 per 1,000 population. The gap between these 2 rates explains why the United Nations is projecting an annual growth rate of 2.07 percent to the year 2015. The population is expected to reach 2.4 million by the year 2025. In 2000, the life expectancy at birth was 44.6 years for the total population and slightly higher for women. This dropped from 52.4 years in 1995 and reflects the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis epidemics. The total fertility rate of 4.15 children per woman is among the world's highest and is nearly double that of fully industrialized countries. Out-migration in search of employment and the HIV/AIDS epidemic will likely curb population growth during the next 50 years. This "demographic fatigue" (a declining growth rate for negative reasons) is common in developing African countries.

The population is overwhelmingly "Basotho" (99.7 percent). Europeans, Asians, and other Africans comprise

the remaining small minority (0.3 percent). The dependency ratio —the number of people under 15 and over 65 years of age, compared with those who fall between— is a very high, 72.5 percent. Approximately 80 percent are Christians, while 20 percent follow indigenous faiths. A total of 81 percent of the males and 62.5 percent of females are literate. Sesotho (southern Sotho), English (official language), Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans are spoken throughout the kingdom.

The overall population density is 70.2 persons square kilometer (181 per square mile). However, since 85 percent are subsistence farmers , the rural population density of 461 persons per square kilometer (176 per square mile) of arable land clearly reveals a critical land shortage. This expanding population is pushing settlements, grazing, and cultivation into the marginal higher elevations and more arid eastern parts of the kingdom. The resulting overgrazing and soil erosion accompanying this land use is perhaps the most serious problem facing Lesotho.


Adequate telephone service exists in and around Maseru and in settlements adjacent to the major roads. Many remote areas still await electrification. In 2000 there were approximately 30,000 telephones in use (about 1.4 per 100 people), and connections increase 13 percent each year. In 1995, a consortium (a cooperative group) of public and private telecommunications corporations combined to offer cellular service in Lesotho for the first time. Service will increase over the next decade so that remote areas will likely leap into the cellular age. There is 1 satellite Earth station for international calls. Personal computers are almost unknown, and the 1 Internet Service Provider appeared only recently.



Local mining and migratory labor to South African mines are essential to Lesotho's economic fortune. Diamond is the principal commercial mineral. Clay for manufacture into bricks and ceramic ware is also important. Deposits of coal, quartz, agate, galena, and uranium have been identified but are not yet commercially viable. Domestic mining and migratory mine wages account for 24 percent of total income in Lesotho. This amount exceeds comparable developing countries and stems from the unusual migratory labor pattern.

Traditional diamond mining from small and independent diggings averaged only 9,000 carats per year until 1977, when South African mining giant De Beers opened the Letseng-la-Terae open-cast mine. Production surged to 105,200 carats in 1980, so that high quality gemstones accounted for 55 percent of Lesotho's exports. The oscillating global diamond market produced many periods of boom and bust, and in 1983 De Beers ceased the Letseng-la-Terae operation. It was recently reopened under a new private/government partnership, and the rising demand for raw diamonds may also stimulate foreign investment in additional mines within Lesotho.

The "fixed contract" (or circular) migration of mostly 20-to 40-year-old male workers from Lesotho to South African mines is integral to the economy. It is also subject to market forces, and since the late 1990s, falling output from South African mines has reduced the need for foreign labor. In 2001 this demand dropped to its lowest level since the early 1970s. Still, 25 percent of Lesotho's total labor force engages in what are typically fixed-term contracts of 12 months. Remittances from mine employment accounted for 45 percent of Lesotho's GNP from 1983-91 (30 percent of each paycheck is now "deferred" until the worker returns home). If this downward spiral continues, Lesotho will face severe unemployment and a staggering loss of outside earnings that have been the primary source of family support and economic development since independence.


Manufacturing as a percentage of the GDP rose from 8 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2000. This rapidly expanding sector employs 24,000 people. Basotho workers produce clothing, footwear, leather goods, handicrafts, furniture, pottery and tapestries from mostly imported raw materials. Finished goods are exported primarily to South Africa and the United States. This sector will continue to improve if the political situation remains stable.

Increasing both output and employment is an important government objective, although achieving these goals has proved contentious. Prior to 1965 the industrial base was small because geographic isolation, poor infrastructure, and no access to major commerce routes restricted growth. In 1967 the government founded the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC) to attract foreign investment. The effort succeeded but hurt "indigenous" enterprise that lacked the entrepreneurial capacity and financial resources to compete with government/foreign partnerships. Basotho workers resented some foreign operations, especially those under Chinese ownership, for their demeaning labor practices (low compensation, unpaid overtime, gender bias), and apparent bribing of local officials to skirt labor laws. From 1992 to 1998, repeated strikes, walkouts, and political rallies diminished productivity. Teachers, manufacturing workers, and even those staffing the Highlands Water Project participated. Moreover, the protests coincided with the transition to majority rule and erasure of economic sanctions against South Africa, which opened their larger labor force and excellent infrastructure to the same outside investors.


Begun in 1986, the Lesotho Highlands Water Development Project (LHWDP) has been the most important economic and resource development project in Lesotho. Water exports started in 1998 and are now a reliable source of foreign income. Much of the water is bound for South Africa. Leadership from the World Bank and a consortium of public and private sources financed the project that provides Lesotho with 4,000 jobs, water, and energy. More hydropower stations are under construction so that the kingdom will soon export power to South Africa. The government is also investigating the possibilities of solar and LHWDP power for its rural areas.



When compared to South Africa, traveling in Lesotho is very inexpensive. Commercial accommodation and food are available in the larger towns. Elsewhere, Basotho farmers and herders accept tourists into their homes for a small fee or bartered item. Tourists choose to hike, pony trek, bird watch (over 300 species), and observe a rural subsistence way of life. A pony trekking cooperative offers highland routes that overnight in villages. The cool upland air and a fine reputation for local hospitality also explain why tourism is flourishing. Lesotho offers free entry visas and compared with much of Africa, risk of crime and disease is low.


Despite pervasive state involvement in the financial sector, state control is shrinking, as are revenues from state-owned enterprises and government property ownership. The government plans to privatize the state-owned Lesotho Bank that formulates and implements monetary policy and advises on fiscal policy . Foreign banks operate in the kingdom. Procuring credit for investment and land purchases remains beyond financial reach for most Basotho.


Maseru offers the only significant hotel, dining, and retail enterprise with department stores and specialty shops marketing Basotho handicrafts. Teyateyaneng is the center of traditional arts and crafts industries such as tapestries, tribal wool products, and handcrafts.


Lesotho has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Lesotho. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Lundahl, Mats, and Lennart Petersson. The Dependent Economy: Lesotho and the Southern African Customs Union. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1991.

Mochebelele, Motsamai T., and Alex Winter-Nelson. "MigrantLabor and Farm Technical Efficiency in Lesotho." World Development. Vol. 28, No. 1, 2000.

Murray, C. Families Divided: The Impact of Migrant Labour in Lesotho. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2001. <http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html> . Accessed October 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Lesotho, August 1999. <http://www.state.gov/www/background_notes/lesotho_ 9908_bgn.html> . Accessed October 2001.

World Bank Group. "Countries: Lesotho." World Bank. <http://www.worldbank.org/afr/ls2.htm> . Accessed May 2001.

Stephen F. Cunha




Loti (L) (the plural form is maloti). One loti equals 100 lisente. Notes include denominations 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 maloti. Coins include denominations of 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200, and 500 lisente. The South African Rand is also accepted as legal currency on par with the loti.


Textiles (clothing and footwear), raw wool and mohair, agricultural produces (corn, wheat, pulses, sorghum, barley), livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats).


Food, building materials, vehicles, machinery, medicines, fuels.


US$5.1 billion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$260 million (2000). Imports: US$780 million (2000). [The CIA World Factbook 2001 estimated exports at US$175 million f.o.b. and imports at US$700 million f.o.b. for 2000.]

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Natalia Gutierrez
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Dec 3, 2009 @ 7:19 pm
I am a student in Sutter Middle School, California, Sacramento. I am doing a report on Lesotho, and this is the perfect place to get information. Thank-you Encyclopedia of Nations!!
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Oct 28, 2010 @ 1:13 pm
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Jun 12, 2012 @ 10:10 am
hi im jasmine and im doing a proect on lestho and this site gives alot of imformation and i go to kw beach school

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