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Completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, the Kingdom of Lesotho was known as Basutoland prior to achieving independence from the United Kingdom in 1966.

Lesotho is the home of the Basotho people, who originally lived in small tribes scattered throughout the plateaus in the area now known as Lesotho. The area was brought together in its current form under King Moshoeshoe, who united the tribes against British and Dutch colonists, forming what was then called Basutoland.

Missionaries from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, invited by King Moshoeshoe, developed a written language in the native Sesotho between 1837 and 1855, and assisted the new kingdom to establish diplomatic channels and to acquire weapons for its defense against European colonists and neighboring tribes, largely Trekboers from the Cape Colony.

The Basotho emerged victorious and united under King Moshoeshoe, who repelled several waves of invaders, European and African. After halting a few British incursions into Basutoland, King Moshoeshoe made peace with the British temporarily in the early 1850s. The British pulled out of Basutoland in 1854, but Moshoeshoe lost a large portion of the western lowlands to the Boers after a series of wars, ending in 1867. King Moshoeshoe appealed to the British for protection, and Basutoland became a British Protectorate in 1868.

The British signed a treaty with the Boers that defined the boundaries of Basutoland in 1869, ceding the western territories and reducing Moshoeshoe's kingdom to half its previous size. Moshoeshoe died in 1870, which marked the beginning of the colonial era for Lesotho.

Beginning in 1871, Britain treated Basutoland as it did the territories that had been forcefully annexed, moving administrative functions to Cape Colony. This change in status angered the Basotho, and leading to the Gun War in 1881. Also known as the Basuto War, the Gun War was largely over the rights of the Basuto people to bear arms. In 1881, Britain restored the status of Basutoland to that of a Protectorate, although it remained under direct rule by a governor appointed by the British. Had the Cape Colony retained control of Basutoland, it would have become part of the Republic of South Africa.

During the 1900s, the Basotho gained greater autonomy under British administration, and requested self-government in 1955. Political parties were formed. The Basotho National Party won the first Lesotho elections in 1965, the chief plank of its platform being independence from Britain. The BNP candidate, Chief Leabua Jonathan, was elected prime minister.

In 1966, Basutoland became independent from Britain, becoming the Kingdom of Lesotho. As was often the case post-independence, the new government did not travel an easy course. Chief Jonathan proved to be an unpopular ruler. After attaining power, he suspended the constitution, expelled King Moshoeshoe II, and banned opposition parties.

Chief Jonathan was deposed in a military coup in 1986, who restored King Moshoeshoe II as head of state. However, in 1990, the king was again exiled, this time by the coup leader. The king's son, Letsie III, ascended to the throne in 1992, but was allowed only ceremonial powers.

In 1994, Letsie III mounted a coup that deposed the Basotho Congress Party government, after the BCP refused to reinstate his father, King Moshoeshoe II, but the new government failed to receive international recognition, and the BCP rule was reinstated.

Other parties were formed, elections were contested, and other coups and attempted coups have taken place since the last being in 2014.

The Kingdom of Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy, with the prime minister as head of the government. The king serves in a ceremonial role, and is not permitted to participate in political initiatives.

Currently, a political movement within Lesotho calls for the annexation of the country by South Africa.

Although most of the country's population depends on subsistence farming or by agriculture, the country also produces garments for several American brands and retailers. Diamonds are also mined in Lesotho.

Nearly the entire population of Lesotho are Basotho people, and 90% identify as Christian. Lesotho's literacy rate is one of the highest in Africa and, unlike most other African countries, its female literacy rate is higher than its male rate. However, Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world, a problem that is being addressed by its government and international organizations. This struggle is compounded by the fact that sexual violence is a serious problem in Lesotho, with more than 60% of women being victims at some point in their lives.

 

 

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