Lesotho is a small landlocked country entirely surrounded by South Africa. Since gaining independence from British rule in 1960 Lesotho has faced manifold challenges towards achieving political stability and sustained economic growth. The population of Lesotho remains overwhelmingly rural-agrarian and despite some economic growth, gains in GNI per capita have been small and life expectancy has dropped. In 2011 Lesotho placed below average for countries classified by the United Nations as ‘low human development.’ Since transitioning from authoritarian rule in the early 1990s Lesotho has struggled to establish a stable multiparty democracy, particularly during election periods. These challenges are compounded by the failure to fully address fundamental governance issues such as the relationship between traditional institutions and the state.

As is the case in all democratic states, the establishment of mechanisms of accountability is critical to political and economic development in Lesotho. To be truly effective these institutions must span the formal and informal sector and, they must transect horizontal and vertical dimensions of accountability. Policymakers and academics have increasingly turned their attention to the foundational importance of strong, transparent and fully functional rule of law institutions to economic and political development. First and foremost the courts’ role in resolving conflict is essential to maintenance of the rule of law. A stable and predictable investment climate is rooted in the ability of courts to apply the law in a predictable and consistent manner. Second, in transitioning democracies the courts can play an important role in acting as a restraint on overzealous executives, hegemonic political parties and human rights abusers. Given the importance of rule of law to both political and economic development, it is within this context that Freedom House Southern Africa has commissioned a report on judicial independence in Lesotho.

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