Lesotho, or Kingdom of Lesotho, an independent country in southern Africa, surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. It has an area of 11,720 square miles (30,355 km2).
Lesotho consists mainly of mountains and high plateaus, except in the west, where there is a lowland. Elevations vary from 4,500 feet (1,370 m) in the west to more than 11,400 feet (3,475 m) in the Drakensberg range along the eastern border. The Orange and Caledon are the main rivers. Climate varies with elevation. Summers are generally hot, winters cool to cold. Rainfall averages 20 to 30 inches (510 to 760 mm) a year in most areas; summers are rainy, winters dry.
Lesotho is one of the world's least economically developed countries. About one-third of Lesotho's work force is employed in South Africa. Money sent home by these workers is a vital part of the country's economy. Agriculture is also important. Slightly more than 80 per cent of the resident workers are employed in agriculture. Corn is the chief crop; others include sorghum, wheat, and legumes. Cattle, sheep, and goats are also raised. Manufactured products consist almost entirely of consumer goods such as clothing and footwear. The basic currency units are the loti and the South African rand.
Transportation is poorly developed. Most of the nation's roads are unpaved. A railway links Maseru with rail lines in South Africa. Lesotho has an international airport, near Maseru.
Both English and Sesotho, a Bantu tongue, are the official languages. The people of Lesotho, known as Basotho, are largely of the Sotho ethnic group. The population is predominantly rural. Maseru, the capital and largest city, had an estimated population of 373,000 in 1999.
Primary and secondary education is provided largely by mission schools of the Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches. The National University of Lesotho is at Roma. About 80 per cent of the people are Christian.
Under the constitution of 1993, Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy. The king is head of state. He appoints the prime minister, who is head of government. The legislature consists of the National Assembly, whose members are elected to five-year terms, and the Senate, whose members are appointed by the king.
The Sotho were united by Chief Moshesh I in the early 1800's. British influence began in 1868, after the Sotho asked for protection against the Boers, who were intruding on their territory.
The area was known as Basutoland until it was granted independence in 1966 as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The first king was Moshoeshoe II. A military junta seized power in 1986 and deposed the king in 1990. His eldest son succeeded to the throne as King Letsie III. In 1995 Letsie abdicated and Moshoeshoe was reinstated as king. He died in an automobile accident in 1996 and was succeeded by Letsie.
In 1998 a contested National Assembly election caused violent demonstrations. In 2002 constitutional reforms regarding representation in the National Assembly were implemented, and peaceful elections were held.