Lesotho was originally inhabited by the San people until about 1820. Then people came from the north in the people migrations of Bantu people to the south called mfecane (‘the great mess’). Around 1830, King Moshoeshoe united in the Sotho people and founded a kingdom that withstood numerous attacks from neighboring Zulu and Ndebele. At the same time, a new threat emerged, the Boers who emigrated from the Cape Colony to found their own republics, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The latter’s expansion plans prompted Moshoeshoe to ask for British protection. In 1868, Lesotho became a British protectorate, and in 1871 it was incorporated with the Cape Colony, triggering rebellion among the Basotho people. In 1884, therefore, the British established Lesotho’s own protectorate, Basutoland, which in 1910 entered into a customs union with the newly formed South African Union. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Lesotho.
The first political organization was formed in 1952, the Basutoland Congress Party (BCP, later the Basotho Congress Party), which had strong support among the tens of thousands of Lesotho migrant workers in the mines in South Africa. The party won the first election to the Legislative Council in 1960, but in the first elections for independence in 1966, when Basutoland became Lesotho, the Conservative and South Africa- supported Basutoland National Party (GDP, later the Basotho National Party) prevailed. In the next elections in 1970, BCP won, but the government annulled the elections and introduced a state of emergency. BCP made a failed coup attempt in 1974 and then worked in exile in South Africa. Lesotho was now ruled unanimously by the GDP leader, the chief and the prime minister Leabua Jonathan. Although Lesotho was dependent on South Africa, Jonathan began to criticize the apartheid policy and speak out for the liberation movement ANC, which was given a sanctuary in Lesotho. Following a South African raid against the ANC in Maseru in December 1982, Jonathan refused to sign a military pact with South Africa, but was deposed by a military coup on January 15, 1986, after South Africa closed the border. A military council under Justin Lekhanya took over.
When King Moshoeshoe II in 1990 demanded real political influence, he was deposed by the Military Council, who instead appointed his son as successor named Letsie III. In 1991, political parties were allowed, and in 1993 a civilian government was formed by the BCP electorate after the first free elections since 1970. Despite democratization, Lesotho is still characterized by the powers and privileges of the king’s princes. Most are poor, and their economic situation is only alleviated by labor migration to South Africa.
After internal turmoil due to military and police discontent, King Letsie III in 1994 seized power in a coup, probably for the purpose of reinstating the father to the throne. However, he was forced, after international pressure, to give up and reinstate the government. Letsie III abdicated in 1995 in favor of his father, but when he died in a traffic accident the following year, Letsie returned to the throne.
Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle left the BCP in 1997 and formed the party Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), which won landslide victories in the 1998, 2002 and 2007 elections. The uprising was fought by troops from neighboring South Africa and Botswana. In 2002, a new electoral system was introduced in which the 80 directly elected members of the National Assembly were extended by 40, who are elected through proportional elections.
After three years of drought, in February 2004, the government announced a state of emergency and appealed for increased food aid. Paradoxically, a month later the irrigation and electrification project Lesotho Highlands Water Project was inaugurated; The water in the mountain areas is the country’s most important natural resource and both electricity and water are exported to South Africa. Lesotho also suffered severe drought in 2007.
In April 2009, a group of men opened fire on Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, who, however, escaped unharmed. The state of the country had then been troubled since the opposition criticized by the 2007 parliamentary elections, despite repeated mediation attempts by Botswana’s former president Ketumile Masire.
After several years of internal disputes and two outbursts, the ruling party LCD was hit by yet another resignation in 2012, when Pakalitha Mosisili chose to form a new party, the Democratic Congress (DC), which became the largest party in the parliamentary elections that year. However, the prime minister at the head of a coalition government became Tom Thabane, leader of the All Basotho Convention (ABC), one of the parties formed by outbreaks from LCD. To prevent conflicts of the kind that followed the 2007 elections, the government and opposition had agreed a new electoral law the year before.
Thabane fled to South Africa in 2014 after an alleged coup attempt. Prior to that, LCD had threatened with a vote of no confidence, after which Thabane suspended Parliament. Following mediation from South Africa, a new election was announced, which was held in February 2015. This resulted in DC retaining the position as the largest party and Mosisili being able to form government again. In 2017, the Mosisili government lost a vote of confidence in Parliament. In the subsequent election, ABC won and Thabane became prime minister again.
Lesotho is one of the countries in the world most affected by HIV/AIDS. The already vulnerable economic situation was severely aggravated by the financial crisis of 2008–09, not least because many miners had to leave their jobs in South Africa.