The Lesotho Mountains are offshore and surrounded by South Africa on all fringes. Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy in which the executive power lies in the hands of a government leased by a prime minister with its roots in a democratically elected parliament. The country became self-reliant in 1966 and has been governed by the reigning Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) which has won all elections since 1998. However, beneath the surface there is still much political turmoil and blame for abuse of power and corruption. Historically, the economy and living conditions in Lesotho have been intimately linked to the income of migrant workers in South Africa, especially within the mining sector. The powerful neighbor lays large parts of the framework conditions for development and poverty reduction in Lesotho.
The ruling Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD abbreviated by ABBREVIATIONFINDER) gained a pure majority in the 2007, 1998 and 2002 parliamentary elections. In the capital Maseru and in other cities, what has now become the largest opposition party dominates the All Basotho Convention.
The 2012 election was conducted peacefully. The re-start of the Democratic Congress became the largest party, but lost the pure majority. Surprisingly, Prime Minister Mosisili decided to step down and rather let a coalition of opposition parties take over. The All Basotho Convention, with Tom Thabane as Prime Minister, now ruled in a coalition with the Lesotho Congress Party and the smaller Basotho National Party. This change of government was the first peaceful shift in power in Lesotho in history, but the consequences of the shift should not be overstated. Many of the central figures in the new government also sat in the former government.
In 2014, the government coalition collapsed and a series of political crises ensued. The Deputy Prime Minister of the Lesotho Congress Party broke out of the government coalition, causing the governments to lose the majority in parliament. To avoid distrust, the prime minister suspended the parliament. In parallel, a conflict broke out in the state’s apparatus of power: After the prime minister dismissed the chief of defense, the allied forces allied with the opposition on one side and the police with the government on the other. This culminated in a failed military coup attempt in August, while Prime Minister Thabane escaped the country and sought refuge in South Africa.
The Southern African Cooperation Organization (SADC) came on the scene to bring about a political solution. Ever since 1998 – when South Africa, in collaboration with Botswana, invaded Lesotho militarily to defeat a political uprising – SADC has had an active role in mediating these political conflicts. They have established the electoral system, helped to build up the state electoral commission, sought to steer conflicts into constitutional forms and brokered solutions between the parties. This time, SADC appointed South African Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa as mediator. An agreement between the parties came into place, political forces from Namibia and South Africa ensured that the prime minister could return safely and the parliamentary elections were advanced by two years and found the city in February 2015. Once again, the election results led to a coalition government, this time between the Democratic Congress, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy and five small parties. Pakalitha Mosisili became new prime minister, while Thabane’s All Basotho Convention lost 38 percent of the vote. In the short and medium term, there is now political calm in the country.
Lesotho has a complicated selection system. It combines proportionality, which guarantees all parties over barricade representation in parliament after accession, with a system where a quarter of an electoral district sends the representative who got the most votes. This has helped secure all party seats in parliament, but it has also probably reinforced the tendency for fragmentation in various small parties. 23 parties voted in elections in 2015, and 10 of them were represented in the new parliament. Parties are consistently centered around individuals, and they have been marked by factions and numerous cleavage wings. There are few ideological divides between the many small parties. The two major government coalitions have also been through many factional battles. In 2012, this culminated with the then prime minister and camp of the Lesotho Congress of Democrats, Pakalitha Mosisili, broke out of the party and started his own party, the Democratic Congress, which he went to election with in May 2012 and again in 2015. The majority in the parliamentary group joined him. The Lesotho Congress of Democrats was similarly appointed in 1998 following a split by the then ruling Lesotho Congress Party.
Economic development and social unrest
Behind the political fragmentation and cleavage lies also a burgeoning social unrest. Lesotho belongs to the group of “least developed countries” and has a very high poverty rate among its 2.2 million inhabitants. HIV / AIDS is widespread, and it is expected that most one-fourth of the adult population (15-49 years) is infected, which is the third highest in the world. Life expectancy is now down to 47, and 58 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $ 1.5 a day. Lesotho also comes out especially poorly when it comes to health indicators for mothers and newborns, where the number of deaths has risen sharply over the past decade. Lesotho has also suffered greatly from the global economic crisis, due to reduced revenues from customs cooperation with South Africa. The political crisis in 2014 greatly aggravated the economic situation and contributed to increasing poverty.
The textile industry is the largest employer in Lesotho with exports to the US as the most important market. Today, around 40,000 are employed in about 40 factories, but more had to close in 2014 as a result of the US reducing imports. Production and employment are steadily declining, and if conversion to production for other markets is not completed, it looks dark. There is little potential for niche production for the regional market. The mining industry, especially diamond mining, is another important source of income with good growth prospects, but low employment.
Lesotho also has large revenues from exports of water to South Africa. South Africa has financed close to a billion dollars in the ongoing development of the Lesotho Highlands Water Scheme (Phase 2). In the short term, this will result in large growth in the building and construction sector and in the long term new and large revenues. Tourism is also prioritized by the government, but has given little.
Lesotho and South Africa
Historically, the economy and living conditions in Lesotho have been intimately linked to the income of migrant workers in South Africa, especially within the mining sector. There are still many who are employed there, but the scope has been reduced since the early 1990s. Still, one expects that around 250,000 citizens of Lesotho live in South Africa, which means that there are more likely to have wage income in South Africa than in Lesotho!
The powerful neighbor lays large parts of the framework conditions for development and poverty reduction in Lesotho. The political relations with South Africa have also been very close, but when South Africa introduced stricter border control in 2010, there is also much turmoil and resentment on the part of Lesotho. To cope with increasing cattle theft, drug smuggling and illegal immigration, South African soldiers are now deployed to patrol the border. New fences will also be in place. At the same time, the cooperation commission between the two countries has hardly worked in recent years. This has created a lot of frustration both at the political level in Lesotho and among the ordinary inhabitants, who must spend more and more time on border crossings.