The present Lesotho emerged as a single polity under paramount chief Moshoeshoe I in 1822. In January 1970 the ruling Basotho National Party lost the first post-independence general elections, with 23 seats to the Basutoland Congress Party's 36. Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan refused to cede power to the Basotho Congress Party, declared himself Tona Kholo, and imprisoned the BCP leadership.
The BCP began a rebellion and then received training in Libya for its Lesotho Liberation Army under the pretence of being Azanian People's Liberation Army soldiers of the Pan Africanist Congress. Deprived of arms and supplies by the Sibeko faction of the PAC in 1978, the 178-strong LLA was rescued from their Tanzanian base by the financial assistance of a Maoist PAC officer but launched the guerrilla war with only a handful of old weapons. The main force was defeated in northern Lesotho and later guerrillas launched sporadic but usually ineffectual attacks. The campaign was severely compromised when BCP's leader, Ntsu Mokhehle, went to Pretoria. In the early 1980s, several Basotho who sympathized with the exiled BCP were threatened with death and attacked by the government of Leabua Jonathan. In September 1981 the family of Benjamin Masilo was attacked. A few days later, Edgar Mahlomola Motuba was taken from his home and murdered.
The BNP ruled by decree until January 1986 when a military coup forced it out of office. The Military Council that came to power granted executive powers to King Moshoeshoe II, who was until then a ceremonial monarch. But in 1987 the King was forced into exile after a falling out with the army. His son was installed as King Letsie III.
The chairman of the military junta, Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya, was ousted in 1991 and replaced by Major General Elias Phisoana Ramaema, who handed over power to a democratically elected government of the BCP in 1993. Moshoeshoe II returned from exile in 1992 as an ordinary citizen. After the return to democratic government, King Letsie III tried unsuccessfully to persuade the BCP government to reinstate his father as head of state.
In August 1994, Letsie III staged a military-backed coup that deposed the BCP government. The new government did not receive full international recognition. Member states of the Southern African Development Community engaged in negotiations to reinstate the BCP government. One of the conditions Letsie III put forward for this was that his father should be re-installed as head of state. After protracted negotiations, the BCP government was reinstated and Letsie III abdicated in favor of his father in 1995, but he ascended the throne again when Moshoeshoe II died at the age of fifty-seven in a road accident, when his car plunged off a mountain road during the early hours of 15 January 1996. According to a government statement, Moshoeshoe had set out at 1 a.m. to visit his cattle at Matsieng and was returning to Maseru through the Maluti Mountains when his car left the road..
In 1997, the ruling BCP split over leadership disputes. Prime Minister Ntsu Mokhehle formed a new party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, and was followed by a majority of Members of Parliament, which enabled him to form a new government. Pakalitha Mosisili succeeded Mokhehle as party leader and the LCD won the general elections in 1998. Although the elections were pronounced free and fair by local and international observers and a subsequent special commission appointed by SADC, the opposition political parties rejected the results.
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