Lesotho - Introduction
One of the world's poorest countries, Lesotho [ambiguous pronunciation, either as spelled, or as "le soo too"] is an economic and geographic captive of South Africa. Political developments in Lesotho since independence have been a major source of instability with negative consequences on economic and human development. The country endured a number of years of undemocratic rule from 1970 to 1986 and military rule from 1986 to 1993.
The mountainous country is called the Mountain Kingdom or the Switzerland of Africa, and is known for the beauty of its mountainous terrain, and styles itself the "Kingdom in the Sky". Lesotho helps provide electricity and supplies the cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg, to such an extent that Lesotho is nicknamed South Africa's "water tower". The Katse Dam reservoir in the center of the kingdom, was built in the 1990s.
At 30 355 square kilometers, it is about the same size as Belgium. A poor country of just over two million people, it is economically dependent on South Africa, where much of the population goes to work. Nearly half of household incomes comes from remittances by migrants who are employed in South Africa, especially in the mining sector.
Lesotho is a democratic and sovereign nation. The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is situated in Southern Africa, and completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. Originally named Basutoland, the nation gained its independence from Britain and became the Kingdom of Lesotho in 1966. Lesotho has since been known for its turbulent political history. The government of Lesotho takes the form of a constitutional monarchy. The role of the monarchy is ceremonial as the monarch does not hold executive authority.
The security force is composed of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF--estimated 3,000 personnel) and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS--estimated 3,000-4,000 personnel). The LDF consists of an army and an air wing. The LDF reports to the Prime Minister (who is the Minister of Defense and National Security), while the Lesotho Mounted Police Service reports to the Minister of Home Affairs. There also is a National Security Service (NSS) for intelligence, which is directly accountable to the Prime Minister. Relations between the police and the army have occasionally been tense, and in 1997 the army was called upon to put down a serious police mutiny. The situation was defused, relations have since normalized, and the two institutions cooperate as necessary.
Lesotho has high tourism potential. It emanates from the country’s picturesque landscape and snow-covered mountain slopes during winter, which is ideal for camping and skiing activities. This is complemented by the country’s close proximity to South Africa, which has an extensive network of tour operators. Tourism’s potential for propelling economic growth and generating employment can further be exploited if the underdeveloped infrastructure, limited entrepreneurship and capacity, and lack of effective marketing are addressed.
While some may doubt there is any skiing in Africa, Lesotho is actually famous for its ski resort. Skiing so seemingly close to the sky at heights of more than 3.000 meters is very exhilarating, however, there is always the risk of altitude sickness. As for other types of leisure activities, the mountains are beautiful for sightseeing, trekking with ponies, and cultural visits to traditional Basotho villages where people wear Basotho hats and blanket coats. This type of terrain and climate tourism thrives as an industry in Lesotho.
According to recent estimates, the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in Lesotho is 23%, the third-highest in the world. In 1999, the government finalized its National Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS, a diagram for addressing the education, prevention, counseling, and treatment needs of the populace. In 2000, Lesotho declared a national emergency as a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis. In 2003 the Government of Lesotho hosted a SADC Extraordinary Summit on HIV/AIDS. In 2005 legislation was passed to create the National AIDS Commission to coordinate society-wide anti-AIDS activities, which was followed by the launching of a national "Know Your Status" campaign aimed at achieving 100% testing and counseling of all Basotho. A partnership framework that is aligned with the National Strategic Plan was signed in August 2009 by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Government of Lesotho.
The majority of Lesotho’s 5,000 miles of roads remain unpaved. A few main rural highways are comparable to U.S. two-lane rural roads, but lane markings, signs, shoulders and guardrails do not meet U.S. standards. Lesotho's mountainous terrain makes driving on secondary roads hazardous. Unpaved roads in the interior—often narrow, winding, and steep—are poorly maintained. For travel in the interior, especially in wet or snowy weather, a high ground clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.
Aggressive and unpredictable local driving habits result in frequent collisions. Lesotho has a high number of traffic-related deaths and injuries. Driving after dark is dangerous due to the absence of street lighting, livestock on the roads, and the prevalence of crime—including incidents of carjacking.
Although bus and public taxi services exist, chronic overloading combined with inadequate vehicle maintenance and lack of driver training make them unsafe. Some private taxi services are available in the capital, but roving mini-bus taxis should be avoided.
Lesotho has a high crime rate, and foreigners must remain vigilant at all times. Foreigners are frequently targeted and robbed, and have been car-jacked and killed. Crime is most prevalent in urban areas but can happen anywhere. Criminal incidents have occurred in popular restaurants, along poorly lit or unlit roads, and locations frequented by foreigners. Extra caution should be exercised while walking through downtown Maseru, both at night and during the day. Traveling alone or at night is particularly dangerous due to limited street lighting and undeveloped road conditions.
Lesotho has one of the highest rates of lightning strikes per square mile in the world, and lightning-related deaths are not uncommon. If you find yourself in a storm, find shelter in a building or car.
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