Basutoland (now Lesotho-pronounced le-SOO-too) was sparsely populated by
bushmen (Qhuaique) until the end of the 16th century. Between the 16th
and 19th centuries, refugees from surrounding areas gradually formed the
Basotho ethnic group.
In 1818, Moshoeshoe (pronounced mo-SHWAY-shway) I, consolidated various
Basotho groupings and became their king. During his reign (1823-1870),
a series of wars with South Africa (1856-68) resulted in the loss of
extensive lands, now known as the "Lost Territory." Moshoeshoe appealed
to Queen Victoria for assistance, and in 1868, the country was placed
under British protection.
In 1955, the Basutoland Council asked that it be empowered to legislate
on internal affairs, and in 1959, a new constitution gave Basutoland its
first elected legislature. General elections with universal adult
suffrage were held in April 1965. The Basutoland National Party (BNP)
won 31 of 60 seats in the legislature; the Basutoland Congress Party
(BCP), 25 seats; and the Maramatlou Freedom Party (MFP), 4 seats. On
October 4, 1966, the new Kingdom of Lesotho attained full independence
as a constitutional monarchy with an elected bicameral parliament
consisting of a 60-seat National Assembly and a 33-seat Senate.
Early results of the January 27, 1970, election-the first held after
independence-indicated that the ruling BNP might lose control. Citing
election irregularities, Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan nullified the
elections, declared a national state of emergency, suspended the
constitution, and dissolved the parliament. An appointed interim
national assembly was established in 1973. With an overwhelming
progovernment majority, it was largely the instrument of the BNP, led by
Prime Minister Jonathan. Opposition to the government produced violence
and internal disorder which, in 1986, led to a military takeover. In
addition to the Jonathan regime's alienation of Basotho power brokers
and the population, South Africa had virtually closed the land borders
because of concerns over African National Congress (ANC) cross-border
operations and was publicly threatening more direct action if the
Jonathan government did not root out ANC presence in Lesotho.
Under a January 1986 Military Council decree, the state executive and
legislative powers were given to the king. He was to act on the advice
of the Military Council, a self-appointed group of the leaders of the
Royal Lesotho Defense Force (RLDF) who carried out the 1986 coup. All
political party activity was suspended. A military government chaired
by Justin Lekhanya ruled Lesotho in coordination with King Moshoeshoe II
and a civilian cabinet appointed by the king.
In February 1990, King Moshoeshoe II was stripped of his executive and
legislative powers and exiled by Lekhanya, and some members of the
Military Council and the Council of Ministers were purged. Lekhanya
accused those involved of undermining discipline within the armed
forces, subverting existing authority, and causing an impasse on foreign
policy which had been damaging to Lesotho's image abroad. Lekhanya
announced the establishment of a National Constituent Assembly to
formulate a new constitution for Lesotho with the aim of returning the
country to democratic, civilian rule by June 1992.
After attempts at negotiating the king's return to Lesotho failed,
Lekhanya announced in November 1990 that a new law would henceforth
provide that the king shall be a constitutional monarch and head of
state and that King Moshoeshoe had ceased being king and head of state.
Later that month, Moshoeshoe's son was installed as King Letsie III.
source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1990
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