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leshoto-map1.0 Introduction

Lesotho is completely surrounded by South Africa – the only neighbour to the country. Considered the southernmost landlocked country in the world, Lesotho gained independence from British colonial rule in 1966.

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a Senate and a National Assembly elected under a mixed first past the post and proportional representation system.






2.0 Country Snapshot

Total Land Area (000 sq. km)

   30.4 (World Development indicators, 2009)*

Population (million)

    2.135  (Population Data Sheet, 2008)1

Urban Population (%)
Rural Population   (%)

    24     (Population Data Sheet, 2008)

Human Development Index Ranking

    156 (Human Development Report, 2009)

Gender Development Rank

    132 (Human Development Report, 2009)

GDP Growth (%)

     3.9  (World Development indicators, 2009)

GDP per capita , Atlas Method ($)

     1080 (World Development indicators, 2009)

Population below national poverty line (%)


GDP Composition

   Agriculture     7%
   Industry      35%
   Services       58%

   (World Development indicators, 2009)

Rural Access Indictor2



3.0 Transport and Development in Context

Lesotho is one of the few Sub-Saharan African countries with little reliance on agriculture as the main contributor of growth. The country has successfully diversified its economy from subsistence-based agriculture and foreign remittances, to one of manufacturing and water exports and services. The garment sector has been playing a critical role in the provision of employment, exports and revenue. The exportation of water to industrial centres in South Africa has also been pivotal in the development process of the country. After maintaining consistent and increasing growth rates, the economy slowed in 2009 chiefly as a result of the international financial crises which affected the manufacturing, mining and remittances all major pillars of the Lesotho economy. GDP growth rate fell from 4.4% in 2008 to 1.1 in 2009 with macroeconomic balance expected to deteriorate in 2010 and 2011 – due to continuous effect of the financial crises3.

Even though the number of people living on less than $1 a day has reduced from 45% in 1999 to 33% in 2008, poverty is still endemic with majority of the poor residing in the rural areas.

Lesotho has made progress towards the achievement of the MDG targets of universal primary education and to some extent, maternal and child mortality.  However, it is feared that the financial crises may erode the gains made in this regard.

About 85% of the territory of Lesotho is covered by mountains and highlands. An estimated four hours of pedestrian travel or one hour on horseback is the time it takes people on average to move from one remote area to the nearest growth area in the country. There are also infrequent motorised services to the rural areas with most roads poorly maintained.

Meanwhile, infrastructural and transport development has been identified as one of the major pillars of development of the economy. This is evident in the Poverty Reduction Strategy document where the objective of improving transport infrastructure and increasing rural transport services to mainstream economic centres is given a high priority. In view of this, there are efforts to create the appropriate institutional framework for the development of the transport sector.

The construction of roads, maintenance of existing infrastructure and the improvement of transport services is one of the strategies to increase access to road transport. However, the construction of paved trunk roads on the basis of socio-economic factors would mean that transport development is more likely to be biased towards areas of less strategic importance.
To ensure local participation and sustainable rural transport development, there is emphasis on consultations with community leaders and local government structures in the planning, implementation and maintenance for local or specific roads and access development projects. The adoption of labour-intensive approaches in the construction and maintenance of roads without ‘sacrificing efficiency’ (PRSP, 2006) is another strategy aimed at ensuring sustainability of transport development. Attempts at closing the male-female gap have seen the mainstreaming of gender into the transport development in the area of recruitment and also the provision of gender-sensitive transport infrastructure and technologies. Cross cutting issues such as gender, HIV/AIDs, disability and the vulnerable have been given major attention in the transport strategy.

The challenges to the rural transport development in Lesotho include the rugged and mountainous terrain which makes road construction expensive. The shortage of funds to carry out planned works and for maintenance of existing facilities still remains a major problem. There have been little attempts to develop and encourage the use of intermediate and non-motorised transport systems even though their importance have been highly recognised.

4.0 Overview of the Transport Sector

Lesotho is a landlocked country with no ports. Roadways and air are the major modes of transport. Roads are mostly concentrated in the lowland areas.

Rail transport is less developed with the Maseru Depot acting as the only rail terminal connecting the industrial centres of South Africa. Inland water transport is limited to river crossings and small ferry boats.

Road Total length of Road: 7 091 Km
  Paved Roads: 1404 Km
  Unpaved Roads:  5 687 Km
Airports Total: 26
    Paved=3 Unpaved=23
  Over 3,047 m 1 -
  2,438 to 3,047 m - -
  1,524 to 2,437 m - -
  914 to 1,523 m 1 5
  Under 914m 1 18

5.0 Road Classification System

The roads in Lesotho are classified into primary, secondary, tertiary and access roads.

Primary roads refer to all inter-district roads and roads on main corridors, including international link. This is to be managed by a Directorate which would be established as part of the institutional framework for the achievement of the objectives of the transport strategy.

Secondary roads, which are roads within a District to major communities/points of economic importance, will be managed by the Directorate.

Tertiary roads within a District, which cut across more than one community council, which is not a secondary road, would be managed by Local Authorities.

Feeder roads, which are access roads, streets, some footbridges, tracks, bridle path, river ferryboats, rural air-strips entirely within a   single Community Council, will be managed by Local Authorities.


6.0 Institutional framework for the sector

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport has the overall responsibility for the transport sector. It has the mandate for the formulation, implementation and monitoring of appropriate and robust transport sectors and maintains a dynamic and effective institutional and legal framework which provides an enabling environment for sustainable development of transport industries.

 The Roads Branch is responsible for the maintenance of arterial road network. They also have the oversight responsibility to develop and improve this where economics and demand for transport justify such investment. It is also responsible for major trunk roads and bridges, formulating and implementing policy relating to roads infrastructure.

The Department of Rural Roads has the overall responsibility for all low-volume unsealed roads. The Department of Rural Roads is charged with constructing, upgrading and maintaining secondary and tertiary gravel roads as well as footbridges and bridle paths for animal transport. Its primary objective is the provision of a functional rural road network to improve the accessibility of services and markets to rural communities.

The Maseru City Council (MCC), under the Local Government Act 1997 is responsible for the roads within the boundaries of the Maseru urban area. This however excludes classified roads, which remain the responsibility of the Roads Branch. The inability to generate sufficient revenue to carry out road development and maintenance coupled with weak institutional capacity are some of the problems that the MCC is besieged with.

The Ministry of Local Development is to carry out the functions of the Local Authority in urban areas for which no Local Authority has been established. This is however expected to change once local authorities are established under the decentralization reforms currently going on.


7.0 Relevant Rural Transport Programmes


8.0 Some Key Documents and Websites

Lesotho Vision 2020

This sets out the overall vision of the country. All other policies are aligned towards this framework and it seeks to produce a long term vision for the country. Full document is available at as viewed on 24/06/2010


Lesotho Poverty Reduction Strategy

It outlines national priorities and strategies for promoting economic growth and reducing poverty. Full document is available at


Integrating Gender into World Bank Financed transport programs

This study aims to understand the processes involved in the relationship between Ireland Aid and the Department of Rural Roads with particular emphasis on how gender is mainstreamed in policy design and implementation of rural access program.


9.0 Active IFRTD Members/Partners/Contacts

  1. Ireland Aid