Africa > Southern Africa > Lesotho > Lesotho Geography Profile

Lesotho: Lesotho Geography Profile


Lesotho is a landlocked country of nearly two million people in southern-Africa, completely surrounded by the country of South Africa. Lesotho is mostly highland with plateaus, hills, and mountains; additional than 80% of the country is 1800 meters above sea level.

Lesotho's major environmental issues include:

people pressure forcing settlement in marginal areas results in overgrazing, severe soil erosion, and soil exhaustion;
desertification; and, the Highlands Water Project which controls, stores, and redirects water to South Africa. Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the UK in 1966. The Basuto National Party ruled for the initial two decades.

King Moshoeshoe was exiled in 1990, but returned to Lesotho in 1992 and was reinstated in 1995 and subsequently succeeded by his son, King Letsie III, in 1996. Constitutional government was restored in 1993 next seven years of military policy.

In 1998, violent protests and a military mutiny following a contentious election prompted a brief but bloody intervention by South African and Botswanan military forces under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community.

Subsequent constitutional reforms restored relative political stability. Peaceful parliamentary elections were held in 2002, but the National Assembly elections of February 2007 were hotly contested and aggrieved parties continue to dispute how the electoral law was applied to award proportional seats in the Assembly.


Location: Southern Africa, an enclave of South Africa

Geographic Coordinates: 29 30 S, 28 30 E

Area: 30,355 km2 (30,355 km2 land and 0 km2 water)

Arable land: 10.87%
Permanent crops: 0.13%
Pther: 89% (2005)

Land Boundaries: 909 km. Border nations: South Africa 909 km

Natural Hazards: periodic droughts

Terrain: Mostly highland with plateaus, hills, and mountains. Its lowest point is the junction of the Orange and Makhaleng Rivers (1,400 metres) and its highest point is Thabana Ntlenyana (3,482 metres).

Climate: Because of its high altitude, the climate is temperate; with cool to cold, dry winters and with hot, wet summers.


Highveld grasslands

Drakensberg montane grasslands, woodlands and forests

Drakensberg alti-montane grasslands and woodlands - the western edge of this ecoregion approximately follows the western border of Lesotho with South Africa

Map source: World Wildlife Fund
People and Society

People: 1,930,493 (July 2012 est.)

Additional than 99% of Lesotho's people is ethnically Basotho; other ethnic groups include Europeans, Asians, and Xhosa. The country's people is 90% 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 Xhosa.

Ethnic groups: Sotho 99.7%, Europeans, Asians, and other 0.3%,

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 33.5% (male 323,934/female 321,727)
15-64 years: 61.1% (male 573,773/female 602,443)
65 years and over: 5.4% (male 50,956/female 52,053) (2011 est.)

People Increase Rate: 0.332% (2012 est.)

Birth Rate: 26.65 births/1,000 people (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 15.18 deaths/1,000 people (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -8.15 migrant(s)/1,000 people (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 51.86 years

male: 51.77 years
female: 51.95 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 2.89 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Sesotho (southern Sotho), English (official), Zulu, Xhosa

Literacy (2003 est.): 84.8% (male: 74.5% - female: 94.5%)


Lesotho gained independence from Britain on October 4, 1966. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party (BNP) appeared set to lose the initial post-independence general elections at the same time as Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan annulled the election. He refused to cede power to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP) and imprisoned its leadership.

The BNP ruled by decree until January 1986 at the same time as a military coup forced the BNP government out of office. The Military Council that came into power granted executive powers to King Moshoeshoe II, who was until again a ceremonial monarch. In 1990, however, the King was forced into exile next a falling out with the army. His son was installed as King Letsie III.

The chairman of the military junta, Major General Metsing Lekhanya, was ousted in 1991 and again restored by Major General Phisoane Ramaema, who handed over power to a democratically elected government of the BCP in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile in 1992 as an ordinary citizen. Next the return to democratic government, King Letsie III tried unsuccessfully to persuade the BCP government to reinstate his father (Moshoeshoe II) as chief of national. In August 1994, Letsie III staged a coup which was backed by the military and deposed the BCP government. The new government did not receive full international recognition. Member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) engaged in negotiations aimed at the reinstatement of the BCP government. One of the conditions put forward by the King for the return of the BCP government was that his father should be re-installed as chief of national. Next protracted negotiations, the BCP government was reinstated and the King abdicated in favor of his father in 1995, but Moshoeshoe II died in a car accident in 1996 and was again succeeded by his son, Letsie III. The ruling BCP split over leadership disputes in 1997.

Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle formed a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and was followed by a majority of members of parliament (MPs), which enabled him to form a new government. The LCD won the general elections in 1998 under the leadership of Pakalitha Mosisili, who had succeeded Mokhehle as party leader. Despite the elections being pronounced free and equitable by local and international observers and a subsequent appropriate commission appointed by SADC, the opposition political parties rejected the results.

Opposition protests in the country intensified, culminating in a violent demonstration outside the royal palace in August 1998. At the same time as junior members of the armed services mutinied in September, the government requested a SADC task force to intervene to prevent a coup and replace stability. A military group of South African and Botswana troops entered the country in September, put down the mutiny, and withdrew in May 1999. Looting, casualties, and widespread destruction of property followed.

An Interim Political Authority (IPA), charged with reviewing the electoral structure in the country, was created in December 1998. The IPA devised a proportional electoral system to ensure that there would be opposition in the National Assembly. The new system retained the existing 80 elected Assembly seats, but added 40 seats to be filled on a proportional basis. Elections were held under this new system in May 2002, and the LCD won again. However, for the initial time, due to the inclusion of proportional seats, opposition political parties won significant numbers of seats. The February 2007 elections resulted in an extra LCD victory. While acknowledging the LCD victory, opposition parties continued to assert that some of the proportional seats were allocated incorrectly. Nine parties held all 40 of the proportional seats. The National Independent Party (NIP) formed an “informal alliance” with the LCD, leading to its share of 21, the major of any minority party.

The 2007 elections remained an active point of contention for years. Opposition parties called for the reallocation of seats, revision of the electoral law, and formal designation of a leader of opposition. The Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) began mediating the conflict in 2009. Little evolution was made until early 2011. In a major breakthrough, the CCL, with the assistance of an expert facilitated by the UN Development Program (UNDP), held a conference in which all parties agreed on the amendments to be made to the proposed electoral bill. All parties as well agreed to use a single-ballot system in next elections, eliminating the possibility of the contentious informal alliances of 2007.

On April 22, 2009, a failed assassination attempt was made on Prime Minister Mosisili at his residence. Two suspects were arrested in Lesotho, and seven suspects were arrested in South Africa. Those seven were handed over to Lesotho authorities on April 19, 2011, following a prolonged extradition process. The suspected mastermind and financier of the attempted coup is in South Africa awaiting his extradition process. The eight suspects (one died of natural causes in custody) are on trial, facing charges of murder, attempted murder, robbery, kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms, contravention of the Internal Security Act of Lesotho, and conspiracy to kill the Prime Minister.

Next a year of internal LCD fighting, Prime Minister Mosisili fired the Communications Minister and the Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office in late January 2012. In February 2012, the Prime Minister and 44 supporters abandoned the LCD but remain in power with a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC). Of the 80 constituency-based seats, the DC presently controls 45, the LCD 21, and the All Basotho Convention (ABC) 11. On February 29, parliament passed a symbolic motion of confidence in the Prime Minister as the opposition parties walked out in turmoil. Parliament’s term ends on March 15, and national elections must follow within 90 days.

International Environmental Agreements

Lesotho is party to international agreements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, and Wetlands.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 5.2 cu km (1987)

Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.05 cu km/yr (40% domestic, 40% industrial, 20% agricultural). Per capita: 28 cu m/yr (2000)


Southern Africa, an enclave of South Africa

Geographic coordinates: 

29 30 S, 28 30 E

Map references: 


Area comparative: 

slightly smaller than Maryland

Land boundaries Total: 

909 km

Land boundaries Note: 


temperate; cool to cold, dry winters; hot, wet summers


mostly highland with plateaus, hills, and mountains

Natural resources: 

water, agricultural and grazing land, diamonds, sand, clay, building stone

Natural hazards: 

periodic droughts

Environment - current issues: 

population pressure forcing settlement in marginal areas results in overgrazing, severe soil erosion, and soil exhaustion; desertification; Highlands Water Project controls, stores, and redirects water to South Africa

Geography note: 

strategic location near world's busiest shipping lanes and close to Arabian oilfields; terminus of rail traffic into Ethiopia; mostly wasteland; Lac Assal (Lake Assal) is the lowest point in Africa