The poor mountain country of Lesotho – surrounded by South Africa on all fronts – has been characterized by unrest and political conflict after most quarterly elections since the 1966 elections. The broker gave up in 2009. Developments in the country have been strongly influenced by conditions in the powerful neighbor. Life expectancy is among the lowest in Africa – essentially the result of HIV and AIDS. At the same time, the country has invested heavily in developing the education system.
Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy, but the power of the king is still severely limited. The executive power lies in the hands of a government hired by a prime minister based in a democratically elected parliament. The last parliamentary election took place in 2007. Here, the ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) got pure majority for the third time. This party, led by Pakalitha Mosisili, also won the parliamentary elections in 1998 and 2002.
As with the previous election, the election results in 2007 also gave rise to political turmoil and conflict between the election winner and the many opposition parties. LCD was blamed for exploiting and manipulating a complicated election scheme for its own gain. The regional cooperation organization, SADC, appointed Kwetumile Masire’s former president of Botswana, but in 2009 he gave up in frustration and blamed the ruling party for showing a lack of willingness to meet critics and opposition. SADC has stalled with attempts at mediation, alongside local initiatives through the churches, but no one expects quick results or any changes in the election result from 2007. The focus will soon be directed towards an expected municipal election in 2010 and the next parliamentary election in 2012. Maybe certain changes in the election law will remove grounds for suspicion of manipulation.
Despite these top-level political conflicts, Lesotho has been relatively stable over the past decade, since a poorly executed South African and Botswana military intervention defeated the political uprising following the 1998 elections. Lesotho has relatively high scores on political freedom and participation indexes. The political dividing lines between the political parties are also small and difficult to spot. Personal rivalries and factions built around this are often more prominent features of the political culture of the country. The largest opposition party (government outbreaks), the All Basotho Convention (ABC), has the strongest support in the cities, while the ruling party dominates in the countryside.
Economy and living conditions
Lesotho belongs to the group of “least developed countries” and has a very high poverty rate among its close to 1.9 million inhabitants. The HIV and AIDS epidemic is significant and one in one quarter of the adult population is expected to be infected. One child born in 2009 today – as a result of this – has a life expectancy of 45.5 years. It is among the lowest in the world.
HIV and AIDS also contribute to the decline in food production in the country and to the fact that fewer and fewer households can feed themselves. Food production has been declining and at the same time very vulnerable to ecological fluctuations. Poor soil quality, erosion and a climate that fluctuates from drought to extreme cold have greatly reduced agriculture’s ability to create jobs and income. Most of the population had to have food aid during the 2009-2010 season. 70 percent of the population are in rural areas.
The level of education is, however, somewhat higher than in correspondingly poor countries in Africa, which contributes to Lesotho being higher on the UN Living Conditions Index than the very poorest (at 156th place or 26th if bottoming out). The governing powers in Lesotho have for many years invested heavily in developing the education system.
Historically, the economy and living conditions in Lesotho have been intimately linked to income from migrant labor in South Africa, especially within the mining sector. There are still many who are employed there, but the scope has been reduced since the early 1990s. In 2005, nearly 50,000 Lesotho workers were employed in the South African mining industry. Still, one expects around 250,000 citizens of Lesotho live in South Africa. Perhaps more people have wage income in South Africa than in Lesotho! Lesotho also receives large financial transfers from South Africa through the Customs Union between Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. There is a large source of revenue in the state budget, but is expected to be reduced in the future, among others as a result of lower tariffs.
Textile production and mining (diamonds) have been the most important driver of economic growth in recent years. Both have been hit by the international financial crisis. The biggest challenge is for the textile industry, which also employs many. The discovery of new diamond deposits makes the prospects brighter for the mining industry.
The development and export of water resources to South Africa was the most important economic driver in the 1990s. The giant project Lesotho Highlands Water Project started in 1986 as a joint project with South Africa. The development of these resources in Lesotho was to ensure the export of water to Gauteng Province. The first phase has been completed and now one is about to start phase 2. This will give a big boost for the construction sector as well as new large revenue for Lesotho when the project is completed.
Lesotho in southern Africa
The development in Lesotho will be intimately linked to the economic and political development of its powerful neighbor – South Africa. Here, many important framework conditions for development and poverty reduction are laid. The political relations with South Africa are also very close. South Africa has also played an important role in laying the foundations for political stabilization in the country after the 1998 invasion.. It has so far produced less results.
In December 2009, the South African chief of police moved out and characterized Lesotho as a center for drug smuggling and cattle theft. It also illustrates that powerful South Africa is also vulnerable to the development of its neighbor.
Area: 30 355 km2 (43rd largest)
Population: 2 million
Population density per km2: 68
Urban population: 25 percent
Largest city: Maseru – approx. 211 000
GDP per capita: USD 789
Economic growth: 3.5 percent
HDI Position: 156