U.S. Department of State Background Note
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More than 99% of Lesotho's population is ethnically Basotho; other ethnic groups include Europeans and Asians. The country's population is 80% Christian, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic. Other religions are Islam, Hindu, and indigenous beliefs. Sesotho and English are official languages, and other languages spoken include Zulu and Xhosa.
The Lesotho Government is a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister, Pakalitha Mosisili, is head of government and has executive authority. The King serves a largely ceremonial function; he no longer possesses any executive authority and is proscribed from actively participating in political initiatives.
The Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) controls a majority in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament), with All Basotho Congress (ABC), the National Independent Party, and the Lesotho Workers Party among the 9 opposition parties represented. The upper house of parliament, called the Senate, is composed of 22 principal chiefs whose membership is hereditary, and 11 appointees of the King, acting on the advice of the prime minister.
The constitution provides for an independent judicial system. The judiciary is made up of the Court of Appeal, the High Court, Magistrate's Courts, and traditional courts that exist predominately in rural areas. All but one of the Justices on the Court of Appeal are South African jurists. There is no trial by jury; rather, judges make rulings alone, or, in the case of criminal trials, with two other judges as observers. The constitution also protects basic civil liberties, including freedom of speech, association, and the press; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of religion.
For administrative purposes, Lesotho is divided into 10 districts, each headed by a district administrator.
Lesotho held its first post-independence local government elections on April 30, 2005 using a quota system that reserved one-third of electoral divisions for women candidates. In these elections, 53% of the victorious candidates were women. Locally elected officials attended post-election training while regulations for local governance were drawn up by the National Assembly and infrastructure was created.
Principal Government Officials
Ambassador to the United States--Molelekeng Ernestina Rapolaki
Lesotho maintains an embassy in the United States at 2511 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel: 202-797-5533). Lesotho's mission to the United Nations is located at 204 East 39th Street, New York, NY 10016 (tel: 212-661-1690).
Lesotho's economy is based on water and electricity sold to South Africa, manufacturing, earnings from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), agriculture, livestock, and to some extent earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. Lesotho also exports diamonds, wool, and mohair. Lesotho is geographically surrounded by South Africa and economically integrated with it as well. The majority of households subsist on farming or migrant labor, primarily miners in South Africa for 3 to 9 months. The western lowlands form the main agricultural zone. Almost 50% of the population earns some income through crop cultivation or animal husbandry, with over half the country's income coming from the agricultural sector.
Water is Lesotho's only significant natural resource. It is being exploited through the 30-year, multi-billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP), which was initiated in 1986. The LHWP is designed to capture, store, and transfer water from the Orange River system and send it to South Africa's Free State and greater Johannesburg area, which features a large concentration of South African industry, population, and agriculture. Completion of the first phase of the project has made Lesotho almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity and generated approximately $24 million annually from the sale of electricity and water to South Africa. The World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, and many other bilateral donors financed the project. Lesotho has taken advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to become the largest exporter of garments to the U.S. from sub-Saharan Africa. Exports totaled $466.9 million in 2004. Employment reached 40,000. Asian investors own most factories.
Lesotho has received economic aid from a variety of sources, including the United States, the World Bank, Ireland, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Germany, and the People's Republic of China.
Lesotho has nearly 6,000 kilometers of unpaved and modern all-weather roads. There is a short rail line (freight) linking Lesotho with South Africa that is totally owned and operated by South Africa. Lesotho is a member of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) in which tariffs have been eliminated on the trade of goods with other member countries, which include Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland. With the exception of Botswana, these countries also form a common currency and exchange control area known as the Common Monetary Area (CMA). The South African rand can be used interchangeably with the loti, the Lesotho currency (plural: maloti). One hundred lisente equal one loti. The loti is at par with the rand.
The government of Lesotho was initially slow to recognize the scale of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and its efforts to date in combating the spread of the disease have met with limited success. In 1999, the government finalized its Strategic Plan on HIV/AIDS, a diagram for addressing the education, prevention, counseling, and treatment needs of the populace. In late 2003, the government announced that it was forming a new National AIDS Commission to coordinate society-wide anti-AIDS activities. Also in 2003 the Government of Lesotho hosted a SADC Extraordinary Summit on HIV/AIDS. In July 2005 legislation was passed to create the National AIDS Commission.
The security force is composed of the Lesotho Defense Force (LDF--estimated 4,000 personnel) and the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS--estimated 3,000-4,000 personnel). The LDF consists of an army, an air wing, and a paramilitary wing. The LDF answers to the Prime Minister (who is the Minister of Defense and National Security and also the Minister of Public Service), while the Lesotho Mounted Police Service reports to the Minister of Home Affairs. There also is a National Security Service (NSS), 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.
Lesotho's geographic location makes it extremely vulnerable to political and economic developments in South Africa. It is a member of many regional economic organizations including the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). Lesotho also is active in the United Nations, the African Union, the Nonaligned Movement, the Commonwealth, and many other international organizations. In addition to the United States, South Africa, China, Libya, Ireland (Consulate General), and the European Union all currently retain resident diplomatic missions in Lesotho. The United Nations is represented by a resident mission as well, including UNDP, UNICEF, WHO, FAO, WFP, and UNAIDS.
Lesotho has historically maintained generally close ties with the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other Western states. Although Lesotho decided in 1990 to break relations with the People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) and reestablish relations with Taiwan, it has since restored ties with the P.R.C. Lesotho also recognized Palestine as a state, was a strong public supporter of the end of apartheid in South Africa, and granted a number of South African refugees political asylum during the apartheid era.
The United States was one of the first four countries to establish an embassy in Maseru after Lesotho gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966. Since this time, Lesotho and the United States have consistently maintained warm bilateral relations. In 1996, the United States closed its bilateral aid program in Lesotho. The Southern African regional office of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Gaborone, Botswana now administers most of the U.S. assistance to Lesotho, which totaled approximately $2 million in FY 2004. Total U.S. aid to Lesotho is over $10 million, including humanitarian food assistance. The Peace Corps has operated in Lesotho since 1966. About 100 Peace Corps volunteers concentrate in the sectors of health, agriculture, education, rural community development, and the environment. The Government of Lesotho encourages greater American participation in commercial life and welcomes interest from potential U.S. investors and suppliers.
Principal U.S. Officials
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
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Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Oct. 2007