Lesotho: Africa's Best Kept Secret. (an IC Special Report)

By Ankomah, Baffour; Bazid, Khalid | New African, May 2003 | Go to article overview
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Lesotho: Africa's Best Kept Secret. (an IC Special Report)


Ankomah, Baffour, Bazid, Khalid, New African


Pure Majesty

If you haven't been to Lesotho yet, you haven't seen natural beauty. The country of blue mountains and white cars is pure majesty. It does take the breath away. Any tourist worth his salt must see it.

The locals call it "The Mountain Kingdom" "The Roof of Africa" or "The Kingdom in the Sky". All three accolades are well deserved. For in some parts of the 75% of Lesotho dominated by the beautiful rugged mountains, you do actually drive in the clouds, high in the sky, as if you are flying in an aeroplane on the roof of Africa.

You have to see it to believe it. Nothing in your past prepares you for the experience--driving in the clouds, enveloped by the clouds, visibility a mere tens of feet.

It is magical. On the "highest road in Africa" at the Tlaeeng Pass near Mokhotlong in the north, 10,745 feet (3,275 metres) above sea level, thick plumes of white clouds swirl around your car, and for a brief moment you think you are being transported to paradise.

And all around you, beautiful white streams full of water meander their way down the sides of the mountains into the deep valleys below to form great rivers that feed into the riverine system of Southern Africa. Lesotho is the birthplace of many of the region's rivers. It is a wondrous sight. Absolutely fantastic. You will never see a country so devoid of trees but which has so much water. No wonder, water is the chief natural resource of Lesotho.

Welcome to the land of 2.2 million people mad about their white cars. Over 90% of vehicles in Lesotho are white, the only place in the world you will ever see such a phenomenon. The locals say white cars are cheap to buy and maintain, especially if the paintwork needs re-doing.

So where is Lesotho? Forget latitudes and longitudes. Just take your African map. Go down to the very south of the continent, to the country called South Africa. Pan your eye across the eastern districts of South Africa. And there it is! Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa, one of the only three countries in the world (the Vatican and San Marino are the other two) to be so surrounded by one country.

Covering an area of 11,716 sq miles (30,344 sq km), landlocked Lesotho is the same size as Belgium or Taiwan. But while Taiwan has over 22 million people, Lesotho has just 2.2 million. You can thus imagine the freedom of space that the people of Lesotho (called the Basotho) enjoy, and how that adds to their quality of life.

In fact, the similarities with Taiwan are striking. Like Taiwan, 75% of Lesotho is mountainous, forcing mach of the population onto the 25% of "lowlands" in the north and west. In Taiwan, the harsh rugged mountains dominating the middle of the island, have similarly forced the country's 22 million people to live cheek by jowl on the strip of' lowlands along the coast, making land space such a premium commodity.

Small wonder then that Taiwanese companies dominate Lesotho's ho burgeoning clothing and textile industry (the higgest in Africa), employing scores of thousands of mainly Basotho women.

Talking about "lowlands", Lesotho is exceptional. "Low" here means over 4,550 feet (or 1,380 metres) above sea level. It is the only country in the world that has all its territory lying at altitudes higher J than 4,553 feet above sea level the lowest point in Lesotho). It is truly "the roof of Africa", the only country in hot Africa covered by snow from border to border in the winter months (May to July).

Unlike the Africa you know Lesotho has a somewhat "European" climate, with four distinct seasons. Spring starts from August to October, summer from November to January, and autumn from February to April, In winter (May to July) temperatures can get as low as minus 17 degrees. During this time, the cascading waters of the mountain streams are known to freeze. Something new always come from Africa indeed!

The "highlands" that make up 75% of the country consist of high mountains, deep valleys and cool rivers.

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