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Africa Files: Lesotho

Sunday, March 24, 2019 2:34 PM | Jennifer Wisniewski (Administrator)

At a glance:

Population:  1,962,461 (2018)

Capitol:  Maseru

Official Languages:  Sesotho and English

Religion:  Protestant (47.8%), Roman Catholic (39.3%), other Christian (9.1%), non-Christian (1.4%)

Fertility Rate: 2.59 births per woman (2018)

HIV/AIDs Adult Prevalence Rate:  23.8% (2017) / 2nd highest in the world               

Life Expectancy:  53 years (2018)

Image Source:  Wikipedia

Literacy Rate:  79.4% (2015) / Males 70.1%, Females 88.3%

Currency:  loti / South African rand is also accepted as legal tender.

Form of Government:  Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy

Natural Resources:  water, diamonds, sand, clay

Exports:  clothing, footwear, wool, mohair, food and live animals, water, electricity, diamonds (1)


Lesotho’s most prominent features are its mountains and geographical position as a small, landlocked country.

First, the country’s lowest elevation is 1,400 meters above sea level, with 80% of its territory actually 1,800 meters or more above sea level.  Indeed, Lesotho is sometimes referred to as “Mountain Kingdom” or “Kingdom in the Sky.” Lesotho is the only country in the world that sits entirely at or above 1,400 meters. The mountains and foothills of Lesotho are a source of great beauty but also cause isolation and limit the amount of arable land. (2)

Image by Markus Fischer on Pixabay

In addition, this small country is unique in that it is completely surrounded by the larger country of South Africa. As such, it shares the distinction of being a complete enclave with only two other countries in the world.


The area now known as Lesotho was settled by the Sotho people in the sixteenth century. In the 19th century, Moshoeshoe, known as one of its greatest and unifying leaders, ruled with exceptional diplomatic skill rather than military might. This was at least in part due to his limited military capabilities in contrast to the more powerful Zulus and Matabele.  However, he also is known for developing strong relationships with the Christian and Catholic missionaries who moved into the area. Today the country predominantly practices Christian religions.

In his later years, Moshoeshoe sought protection from the British as the Boers moved into the interior of South Africa and Lesotho, seeking new territory.  Lesotho remained a British protectorate until 1966 when it gained its independence and became a constitutional monarchy. Since that time the country has been marked by political instability including a military coup in 1986. (8)


The culture of the Basotho people centers on village life. Traditional forms of music and dance are incorporated into Basotho life. For example, the lesiba is a popular stringed wind instrument, especially commonplace among herders. Traditional dances include the “gum boot dance” and “Mohobelo dance.” (6)

Clothing is another reflection of Basotho life. One garment that is a staple for many in Lesotho is the Basotho blanket. The blanket often has colorful designs, is draped across the shoulders, and is pinned at the chest. People wear the blanket during important life events such as a marriage, but it is also an everyday article of clothing that keeps a person warm in the cool mountain air.  The blanket is said to have originated in 1860 when King Moshoeshoe received a woolen blanket as a gift and began wearing it in exchange for his leopard-skin clothing. (5) The mokorotlo, a conical hat, is also commonly worn in Lesotho. (7)

Image by Simon Allen on Pixabay

Challenges in Lesotho

High poverty is one of Lesotho’s primary challenges. Estimates show that over 50% of the population lives in extreme poverty. Much of the population works in subsistence farming while as many as 35% of male wage earners travel to South Africa for work. (2)

One initiative seeking to assist in remedying the problem is the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. It is an ongoing and joint South Africa and Lesotho initiative. The project creates major dams, redirecting some of Lesotho’s plentiful water supply to South Africa, where it is more in demand. The dams also provide hydropower for Lesotho. The project developers intend to reduce poverty and improve the lives of people in both countries. (2)

Another challenge for the Basotho is their struggle with both HIV/AIDs and TB. Lesotho has the second highest prevalence rate in the world for both diseases. (3)




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