Lesotho, Africa's 'kingdom in the sky'

2015-02-27 12:29

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Maseru - Basic facts about the southern African mountain state of Lesotho, which holds early legislative elections on Saturday:

- GEOGRAPHY: Lesotho has the particularity of being not only landlocked but being also surrounded on all sides by the territory of just one other state, South Africa. At 30 355 square kilometre, it is the same size as Belgium.

The terrain is mountainous and the climate continental, with cold, dry winters and hot summers. It styles itself as the "Kingdom in the Sky".

- POPULATION: 2 074 million in 2013.

- CAPITAL: Maseru.

- LANGUAGES: English and Sesotho.

- RELIGION: 80% Christian.

- HISTORY: In colonial times, the country was a British protectorate known as Basutoland. It achieved independence in 1966 as a constitutional monarchy under King Moshoeshoe II, with Chief Leabua Jonathan as prime minister.

In 1970, when elections showed that an opposition party had defeated him, Jonathan suspended the constitution and the king went into exile.

Despite Lesotho's complete dependence on South Africa, Jonathan was hostile to the then-apartheid regime, and in 1982 South African forces mounted a raid on the capital, Maseru.

Four years later the Jonathan regime was ousted in a coup; after several more years of instability the country adopted a new constitution and held democratic elections in 1993.

A year later, the end of the white-minority regime in South Africa eased Lesotho's isolation somewhat.

In 1998, the country was again rocked by a severe political crisis, which led to military intervention by troops from South Africa and Botswana, under a mandate from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

On August 30, 2014 the country again plunged into chaos, when, four months after Prime Minister Tom Thabane suspended parliament to avoid a motion that would have ousted him the army attacked police headquarter.

Thabane called the incident an attempted coup and fled to South Africa, returning home several days later home with the help of mediators from the SADC.

The current monarch is King Letsie III, the son of Moshoeshoe II.

- POLITICAL SYSTEM : The Lesotho parliament has 120 members elected every five years. Eighty members represent single-seat constituencies, and the remaining 40 are elected by proportional representation.

- ECONOMY: Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world and its economy is heavily dependent on South Africa, to whom it exports water and hydroelectric power. Other significant exports include diamonds, wool and textiles.

In October, 2011 Lesotho signed a $15bn renewable energy deal with a South African company, financed by Chinese creditors, in the country's largest-ever private investment.

In March 2012 London-listed Gem Diamonds began a $280m expansion to double production at its Letseng mine in Lesotho, including a cutting and polishing plant, Business Day reported.

According to the World Bank, income per capita stood at $1 500 in 2013.

On the United Nations Human Development Index, Lesotho ranked 162nd out of 187 countries rated in 2013, with an HDI rating of 0.486.

- OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.gov.ls

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