Until the beginning of the 19th century the mountain area which was to become the Kingdom of Lesotho more than a century later was populated by the San people. In 1820, King Moshoeshoe founded the Basotho Nation (later Lesotho). After waging war against the Boers, the Basotho requested British assistance, which in the end led to Lesotho becoming a British protectorate in 1868. In 1966, Lesotho gained independence, but was immediately affected by internal conflict. In February 1996, H.M. Letsie III became King of Lesotho. Being a constitutional monarch he does not interfere in daily politics. Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than half of its population lives below the poverty line, about one third is dependent on food aid during the winter months. Standing at 23%, the HIV infection rate is among the highest in the world. 77% of the population works in the agricultural sector, primarily producing corn, wheat, and other cereals. Nevertheless, about half of the food for the country has to be imported from neighbouring South Africa. The Lesotho Highlands Water Project, which produces water for South Africa as well as electricity, serves as a primary source of income for the country. Wool, mohair, footwear, textiles and other manufactured goods constitute Lesotho’s main exports, with tourism becoming an increasingly important source of income. However, approx. 17% (previously up to 38%) of the gross national product is still generated by Lesotho miners living in South Africa. Lesotho’s main trading partners are the member countries of the Southern African Customs Union SACU, Switzerland, and the EU.
The relations between Lesotho and Austria are friendly. On 19 March, 2008, Mr. Roderich Urschler was appointed Honorary Consul of the Kingdom of Lesotho to Austria, resident in Vienna. Since 2003, Mr. Urschler has been operating one of the few ski resorts in Southern Africa – the Lesotho-based Afri-Ski. From 23 – 25 April 2013 H.M. King Letsie III., accompanied by H.M. the Queen, several ministers as well as a business delegation, paid a state visit to Austria. On this occasion a Memorandum of Understanding was signed to facilitate cooperation in the fields of economy and development, mountain tourism, agriculture, forestry, water and energy, education, culture and politics both regionally and internationally. At his meeting with the Federal President of Austria, H.M. Letsie III explored possibilities for enhancing economic relations between the two countries. In April 2014, Ambassador Öppinger-Walchhofer presented her credentials to His Majesty King Letsie III. On this occasion, Deputy Prime Minister Metsing expressed interest in an enhanced cooperation with the Austrian parliament. In May 2015, a two-day training course for young diplomats from Lesotho was held in Maseru by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna.
The bilateral trade between Lesotho and Austria is almost exclusively handled via South Africa. It is subject to strong fluctuations and therefore hardly statistically recorded. Austrian exports to Lesotho consist predominantly of measuring instruments, whereas imports consist mainly of clothing and textiles.
Being one of six partner countries of Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) in the SADC region, Lesotho is included in ADC’s regional projects, such as SolTrain (Southern African Solar Thermal Training and Demonstration Initiative) or the Energy and Environment Partnership (EEP). SolTrain assists local institutions in improving the efficiency and quality of their solar systems and in building maintenance capacity. It is implemented through the Bethel Business and Community Development Centre, a vocational training school. By targeting political decision makers, students and employees of small and medium sized enterprises in the energy sector the project ensures the provision of long-term training capacity in the field of technical vocational education as well as quality assurance in the construction of solar systems. The Austrian NGO SOS Children's Village runs two children's villages, one in Lithabaneng (Maseru) and one in Quthing. Lesotho has been a partner country of the Austrian Development Cooperation since 2013. See here for more information.
Lesotho has been a UNESCO member since 1967. The most important cultural institution in the country is the Museum and Archive in Morija (emerged from a mission station), which also organizes an annual festival.
In existence since 1998, the “Morija Festival” has established itself as one of the biggest cultural events in Lesotho. The focus of the festival is traditional culture and musical heritage, which has a strong bond within the Basotho society. The support of young artist also is encouraging tourism and fostering poverty reduction. Austria has been supporting the festival with several so-called South-North-Projects since 2007. The Austrian Embassy Pretoria has also entered into cooperation with the Lesotho College of Education to support the training of music teachers.
Lesotho Project Sentebale to receive Crystal of Hope Award from Life Ball founder Gery Keszler
2015’s Crystal of Hope Award was given to the Lesotho youth project Sentebale. Every year the Crystal of Hope Award, created in 2005, is awarded to an organization that has demonstrated exceptional commitment to combating HIV/AIDS. The award is endowed with €100,000, which was used by Sentebale to help to continue to making a difference to vulnerable youth in Lesotho, in particular to their Herd Boy Programme. Sentebale’s Herd Boy Programme aims to give this vulnerable group of society an opportunity to receive an education by running local night schools. In addition to basic numeracy and literacy skills, the herd boys are also taught about HIV prevention and sexual health, and are given access to voluntary counseling and testing for HIV. Lesotho has the second highest infection rate of HIV in the world. “Sentebale is providing essential life-skills and psychosocial support to these children giving them chance in life they need and deserve”, says Sentebale CEO, Cathy Ferrier. The Crystal of Hope Award is awarded at the Life Ball Opening Ceremony in Vienna.