Sunday, 18 October 2009

Lesotho - Khotso, Pula, Nala

Having done so many islands recently, I thought I would go for a land- based country this time, albeit one that has island-like qualities. Lesotho is a moutainous kingdom totally surrounded by South Africa.

My first question was How? How did Lesotho become an independent country, whereas the other 'nations' in this part of the world were incorporated into the union of South Africa? Well, as far as I can see there were several factors that brought Lesotho into existence.

The first was the determination of a chieftain called Moshoeshoe, who galvinised the various Basotho tribes in the early 19th century in response to an expansion of the Zulu Empire.

The second was the influence of the missionaries, who Moshoeshoe welcomed and encouraged to preach to his people (although he didn't convert to Christianity himself), thereby gaining white allies and diplomatic skills that would ensure the survival of the Basotho nation.

Most importantly was the fact that, after numerous wars with the Boers, who grabbed most of the low-lying lands, the Basotho tribes managed to get the British to agree to establish a protectorate in, what became known as, Basutoland. Being a protectorate, or crown colony, ultimately kept Basutoland out of the Union of South Africa, which happened in 1910, by default sparing the country (but not the people?) from the worst excesses of apartheid.

Sesotho is the language that people speak. Basotho is the people who speak it and Lesotho is the land of Sesotho speakers.

I get the impression they are a resiliant people. They've managed to keep their nation intact and (mostly) peaceful through the long years that their neighbours in South Africa have endured oppression. Despite being one of the poorest countries in Africa, literacy rates are high. There has been a long tradition of Basotho people going to South Africa to work in the mines in Gauteng (around Johannesburg) but this seems to have more or less come to an end.

A few years ago, there was a lot of optimism in relation to a growing textiles industry - the US had given Lesotho and some other African countries special rights to sell their textiles duty-free on the US market. This progressive move was undone by a later trade agreement with China, which saw cheap Chinese goods flood the US market and put the few textile factories in Lesotho out of business. It really hit home to me that, what nations like Lesotho need, isn't so much hand-outs from the West, but merely open access to the affluent Western consumer.

Meanwhile, Lesotho is struggling with 40% unemployment rates and one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world.

From what I've read so far, I can see that Ireland has had a very close relationship with Lesotho down through the years. The country's motto 'Khotso, Pula, Nala' means 'Peace, Rain, Prosperity'. Coming from a country as wet as Ireland, I could never imagine having 'rain' as something on our wish list for the nation. I guess 'Peace and prosperity' are things most nations aspire to, but so rarely achieve.

Apart from reading a very inspiring book called Singing Away the Hunger by Mpho 'M'atsepo Nthunya (more about that later), I have also been reading a blog by an American researcher who spent the best part of last year in Lesotho. It's quite interesting to get the perspective of a Westerner who's lived in the country recently, you can check it out at

Image credits:

The image of the flag is from Wikimedia Commons and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution Sharelike 2.5 licence. The image of Moshoeshoe is also from Wikimedia Commons and is copyright free.

The image of the landscape in Lesotho is by flickruser tjeerd who is a professional photographer from Amsterdam. Thanks tjeerd for sharing this image with the flickr community.
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