/ 4 October 2006

Lesotho celebrates 40 years of independence

The tiny Southern African kingdom of Lesotho celebrated 40 years of independence from Britain on Wednesday with a new national flag meant to depict peace and unity.

The new flag was raised by head of state King Letsie III at midnight on Tuesday in the national stadium in front of a crowd of about 500 who turned out in extremely cold weather.

It replaces a blue, white and green flag emblazoned with spears, a shield and a club introduced by a military regime that took power in 1986. The new flag has the same colours, but instead of the weapons, has a traditional cone-shaped Basotho hat in black in the centre depicting unity among the Basotho and their ties to Africa.

Lesotho has changed its flag four times in the last four decades.

Lesotho, with a population of about 1,8-million, got its independence from Britain on October 4 1966 after almost 100 years of colonial rule.

”The road the Basotho people have travelled over last 40 years has not an easy one,” said Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili.

In its early independence, Lesotho struggled because of the apartheid policies of South Africa, which surrounds it. It then endured years of violent political turmoil, which has since calmed, with constitutional and electoral reforms and general elections scheduled for next year.

Mosisili appealed to citizens to vote in large numbers and that the outcome be accepted as the ”will of the electorate”.

Despite the political progress, Lesotho remains desperately poor. The average income is just $402 per year and it remains heavily dependent on remittances from workers in South Africa.

Added to its woes is the HIV/Aids pandemic, which affects an estimated one in five adults and has disrupted the subsistence agricultural economy and left about 100 000 children without parents. — Sapa-AP