About the country

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Lesotho -- Geography --

Official Name: Kingdom of Lesotho
Capital City:  Maseru
Official Currency: Loti
Languages: Sesotho and English
Religions: The country's population is 80% Christian, the majority of whom are Roman Catholic. Other religions are Islam, Hindu, and indigenous beliefs.
Ethnicity: More than 99% of Lesotho's population is ethnically Basotho; other ethnic groups include Africaans and Asians.
Population: 2,130,819
Median age : 21.4 years
Population Growth Rate : 0.116% (2009 est.)
Land Area: 30,355 sq km
Climate: Because of its altitude, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than other regions at the same latitude. Maseru and surrounding lowlands often reach 30 °C in summer. Winters can be cold with the lowlands getting down to −7 °C and the highlands to −18 °C at times. Snow is common in the highlands between May and September; the higher peaks can experience snowfalls year-round.


Lesotho -- History --

The British expansion into southern Africa in the 1800s caused Dutch farmers (Boers) in the Cape Province of South Africa to push northward, while Zulu peoples in Natal were pushed westward. Caught between the two were many refugees. The refugees as well as local peoples collectively came to be known as Basotho under Moshoeshoe (Moshesh), one of the greatest African leaders of the 19th century and the father of the Basotho nation. Under Moshesh, the Basotho fought four wars with the Boers from 1858 to 1868 in order to preserve their independence. 

However, having been debilitated by the long years of war and the loss of most of their arable land, the Basotho petitioned Great Britain for protection from the Boers. While the British agreed to grant a protectorate, which they called Basotholand, they intended to have their South African Cape Colony rule the Basotho. For more than a decade the Basotho vigorously resisted this proposal diplomatically and with threat of arms. Finally, in the 1880s the British agreed to rule the protectorate directly from London. Thus Basotholand never became part of the Republic of South Africa, and instead became the independent Kingdom of Lesotho on October 4, 1966.


Lesotho -- Economy --

Lesotho's economy is based on diamonds exported all over the world and water sold to South Africa, manufacturing, agriculture, livestock, and to some extent the earnings of laborers employed in South Africa. Lesotho also exports wool, mohair, clothing, and footwear.
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 who remain 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 and diamonds are Lesotho's significant natural resources. The multi-billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) began in 1986. The LHWP is designed to capture, store, and transfer water from the Orange River system 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, Africaan 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 US from sub-Saharan Africa. Exports totaled over $320 million in 2002.


Lesotho -- Culture --

The Basotho people are extremely friendly and curious about foreigners. Singing and dancing are part of every social function. Customs vary from one part of the country to another. Certain articles of clothing are the most notable variation. Town meetings are called "pitsos" and occur in the open air whenever anyone important comes to a village, or when an issue needs discussion. People get up and speak their point of view all day long, under the direction of the Morena, or chief. Pitsos happen often. Feasts are also a regular occurrence, especially with visitors and guests in the village.
60 percent of the male population spend 6 to 9 months away working in various South African mines (gold, coal, platinum, diamonds). This leaves only the very young and very old in the village, plus women and children. Besides impacting family life, the situation causes a labor shortage in farming. Linguistically, the Sesotho language is similar to the Tswana language spoken in Botswana. In fact, the Sesotho spoken in Lesotho is called "Southern Sotho" while Tswana is also known as "Northern Sotho".


Lesotho -- Political system, law and government --

The Lesotho Government is a constitutional monarchy. The Prime Minister, Pakalitha Bethuel 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 prohibited 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 62 seats. The All Basotho Convention (ABC) is the main opposition. The Basotho National Party (BNP), the Alliance of Congress Parties (ACP) and the newly formed Basotho Batho Democratic Party (BBDP) and the Basotho Democratic National Party (BDNP) Lesotho are among the other five opposition parties represented.
A total of 12 political parties are represented in the 120-member parliament.
The upper house of parliament, called the Senate, is composed of twenty-two principal chiefs whose membership is hereditary, and eleven appointees of the king, acting on the advice of the prime minister.
The constitution provides for an independent judicial system, made up of the High Court, the Court of Appeal, Magistrate's Courts, and traditional courts that exist predominantly 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, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of religion.


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