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Transport networks in Lesotho are dominated by road, which makes up more than 70 percent of domestic transport needs. Other modes include air and limited rail services, as well as ferry boats at river crossings, animal transport and pedestrian travel, especially in the sparsely populated highland areas.

Lesotho’s rugged topography has made the development of road infrastructure and other transport networks a challenge. While this has had significant implications for transport modes and accessibility, the creation of an integrated transport system remains central to Government’s infrastructure development programmes.

Cargo and passenger transport services are mainly provided by private sector operators in the freight, taxi and bus industries. Government is responsible for the Lesotho Freight and Bus Services Corporation, which manages a far smaller percentage of public road passenger transport services, mainly in areas and on routes where volumes are low and the private sector cannot operate a profitable service. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport owns and operates around 44 ferryboats at river crossings. Private operators, working longer hours, complement these services.

Lesotho is connected to South Africa’s well-developed regional road network via a total of 11 border posts; those at Ficksburg and Maseru staying open 24 hours a day (see ‘Useful Information’ for additional border post hours). Maseru is only 450 kilometres from the economic hub of Johannesburg and 575 kilometres from the port of Durban on the east coast, the destination of the vast majority of Lesotho’s manufactured goods, which are transported here by road or rail before being shipped overseas. Air transport services operate from Moshoeshoe I International Airport near Maseru to OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, South Africa, from where there are a wide variety of regional and international connections. There are also several rural airstrips which are used by light aircraft.

The share of the transport and storage sector in GDP presently stands at 6.9 percent.

Real GDP growth rates in the ‘transport and storage’ subsector have been pleasing in recent years, and the Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL), in its Economic Outlook 2015-2018 report forecasts further growth in the subsector of 5.92 percent in 2017 and 6.26 percent in 2018. Transport services are expected to benefit from low oil prices as well as prospects in the mining and construction industries.

TRANSPORT PRIORITIES

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MoPWT) is responsible for infrastructure provision and maintenance as well as creating an enabling environment for the private sector to develop efficient, cost-effective and safe transport services. This involves setting standards and guidelines to ensure operational efficiency in transport systems and infrastructure, and meeting Lesotho’s obligations regarding regional and international transport conventions.

One of the Ministry’s vital priority areas is the restructuring and reform of the various transport subsectors to meet demand and improve service delivery. For example, it is problematic that the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) is both a regulator and service provider, as this causes some issues to be overlooked, especially with regard to operations of the airport that are not in line with regulations. Other bodies needing urgent attention include the Department of Traffic and Transport and that of Road Safety, with the latter requiring a clear mandate to direct its activities.

The chief objectives of the World Bank’s proposed Lesotho Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project (TICP) are to improve access to social services and markets in targeted rural areas, strengthen the country’s road safety management capacity and provide an immediate and effective response to eligible emergencies. This is to be realised by: improving road access through the application of output and performance based contracts (OPRC) and construction of footbridges; improving road safety management capacity and mitigating road safety risks; and building capacity and strengthening institutions in the transport sector. Key results are expected to be realised in reduced travelling times and transport costs, a greater share of the population with access to a paved/all-season roads or footbridges, a reduced number of road traffic fatalities, and the creation of construction-related jobs.

The first component, ‘Improving Infrastructure Access’, will include the construction of about 35 footbridges in isolated areas, along with a number of studies and services. The second, ‘Improving Road Safety’, addresses road safety in a more integrated manner in order to achieve Government’s objective of meeting the global decade of road safety aim of halving road deaths between 2010 and 2020. ‘Institutional Strengthening Support to the Transport Sector’ includes the necessary project implementation support, such as citizen engagement mechanisms, HIV/AIDS and gender-targeted activities, capacity building support to the Roads Directorate and MoPWT, preparation of the National Transport Master Plan, and technical assistance in designing and piloting community-based maintenance schemes. ‘Contingency Emergency Response’ allows for the possibility of accessing resources in the event of an eligible crisis or emergency to provide an immediate and effective response to said crisis or emergency.

Regional transit routes

As a landlocked country, Lesotho faces specific transport challenges which are addressed on a regional level in the Almaty Declaration on Landlocked Countries. The development of transit corridors in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is essential for increasing industrialisation, regional integration and development, connecting areas of production (mines, agriculture and industry) with domestic, regional and global markets. However, infrastructural bottlenecks along these corridors, such as poorly maintained railway lines, roads and bridges, sub-optimal border logistics and complex customs procedures, often result in high transport costs and long transportation times.

SADC’s Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology ensures the cooperation of member states in facilitating the free movement of people and goods through the region, particularly from landlocked countries to seaports, and calls for the creation of Corridor Planning Committees to focus on specific strategies for development along the region’s principal routes. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and East African Community (EAC) are also working toward the development of transit corridors, with the emphasis on reducing transportation costs and enhancing regional competitiveness.

The Transport Sector Plan (TSP) of the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) presents an analysis of transport infrastructure, including current and future infrastructure requirements up to 2027. It is focused on providing transport infrastructure services, policy and legislation, an enabling environment, and supportive institutions with the necessary human resources and capacity to transform the sector.

The key objective is to identify hubs and gateways for rehabilitation and development in order to ensure that the passenger and goods markets are adequately catered for. The TSP also addresses the need to develop appropriate, integrated, safe, secure and efficient infrastructure capacity along strategic transport and development corridors with regard to road and rail networks.

Lesotho and South Africa have formed a Joint Bilateral Commission on Cooperation to oversee the development of cross-border transport within the parameters of the SADC Protocol on Transport as well as the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Memorandum of Understanding. Transport-related agreements between the two countries include the Search and Rescue Agreement and the Bilateral Air Services Agreement.

ROAD TRANSPORT

Lesotho has an unevenly distributed road network due to its mountainous topography which poses a particular challenge to the expansion and maintenance of road infrastructure. Although the lowlands and foothills are relatively well served, they constitute just a quarter of the country’s total area. Arterial roads connect all districts in Lesotho to 11 border crossing points with South Africa, but relatively fewer rural roads connect villages and towns in the highland districts of Thaba-Tseka, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek and Quthing that constitute the remaining 75 percent of the country. Isolated rural populations still struggle to access basic services, agricultural markets and business opportunities due to limited road connections and bridge access across rivers.

The maintenance of the road network, both routine and periodic, is financed from the Road Fund and the Government budget.

Much has been achieved under the World Bank-funded Integrated Transport Project (ITP), which concluded in 2016. Planning and implementation support, which was provided both at the central and local government level, saw the development of a blueprint for planning and change management, appointment of a road safety advisor, and development of the needed systems, plans, studies and technical manuals. Operating within the ambit of the MoPWT, the semi-autonomous Roads Directorate was established under the Roads Directorate Act, 2010. Furthermore, some 500 kilometres of local roads were transferred to the Ministry of Local Government in line with Lesotho’s decentralisation policy.

At project closure, the Roads Directorate was fully operational and 87 percent of the periodic and routine maintenance requirements of the total national network were funded through road user charges (the Road Fund) against a target of 80 percent. The upgrading of the Lesotho Road Management System (LRMS) was completed to provide a mechanised road condition survey. Furthermore, 40 kilometres of non-rural roads has been rehabilitated as per the revised target and as compared with the original target of 20 kilometres.

Other noteworthy outcomes under the ITP included:

38 percent of roads were reported by the LRMS to be in good condition and 50 percent in fair condition, as compared with the original target of 39 percent in good condition and 46 percent in fair condition

Average travel costs in targeted project areas fell by 40 percent, exceeding the original target of 20 percent 42 percent of the rural population had access to an all-season road within the project area as per the revised target at project closure 9 372 people, of which 52 percent were women, benefitted from the project as per the revised target.

The Roads Directorate aims to provide better service delivery and more effective and efficient management of the road network, and is responsible for construction, upgrading, rehabilitation and maintenance of primary, secondary, tertiary and other roads as well as bridges. Additional functions include: implementation of government policy on roads-related issues; planning, design and implementation of roads programmes; preparation of strategic road network development plans; and promotion and support of the development of the road construction industry in Lesotho.

The Councils and the Ministry of Local Government are entrusted with upgrading and bituminising urban roads and bus terminals, as well as constructing hard gravel roads that link communities within the districts. Government encourages private sector participation in terms of commercial contracting and service provision.

Under the Lesotho Road Management System there is a rolling three-year priority investment programme for the core maintainable road network to eliminate the backlog of deferred periodic maintenance, avoid further deterioration of roads already in a poor condition, and preserve the existing road assets. However, the current capacity of contractors is not adequate to keep up with the maintenance schedule, resulting in a growing maintenance backlog and low absorption of financial resources allocated to maintenance.

One of the aims of the World Bank’s new Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project (TICP) is to provide further institutional strengthening to the Roads Directorate. This will enable it to improve efficiency in provision and maintenance of road safety while enhancing access and refocusing the management of road infrastructure to accommodate the impacts of climate change. In addition, the functions of the Road Fund will be reviewed to update its responsibilities in line with the changing road network requirements.

Road network expansion and maintenance

The Government of Lesotho has invested heavily in expanding the network of urban and rural roads, upgrading gravel roads to bitumen standard, building new bridges and repairing and rehabilitating existing roads. According to the latest LRMS Report, the network has grown to approximately 8 638 kilometres, including some 1 817 kilometres of paved roads, 4 358 of gravel roads and 2 463 of earth roads.

The main trunk route north, the Main North One (A1), provides access to most of the north. The A1 from Maseru to Botha-Bothe and on to Mokhotlong is tarred, as is the Katse Road, which has opened up much of the northern highlands. The Main North One also connects to improved roads at Caledonspoort and Ficksburg on the South African side of the border.

Tarred roads link Maseru to other district headquarters in Lesotho’s lowlands, as well as connecting the capital to Mohale Dam via the A3 along the Maseru to Thaba-Tseka route. The main trunk route to the south, the Main South One (A2), comprises a good tarred road from Maseru to Moyeni (Quthing), Mount Moorosi and on to Mphaki. The road from Semonkong to Matatiele in South Africa is also tarred.

The rehabilitation of 37 kilometres of the Nyenye-Mapoteng- ‘Makhoroana Road, linking the districts of Berea and Leribe, has been completed with assistance from the World Bank under the ITP. The road forms an important link that connects to the main arterial road network, enhancing access to agricultural areas and the business centres of Mapoteng and ‘Makhoroana, thus contributing greatly to the economic prosperity of these districts and the country as a whole.

A sum of M916 million was put towards the construction of roads and bridges through the Ministries of Public Works and Transport and of Local Government and Chieftainship in the 2017/18 budget.

In the 2017/18 financial year, construction activities are focusing on 330 kilometres of rural roads, at a cost of M20 million, and 20.3 kilometres of urban roads in Maputsoe and Mohalalitoe. In addition, Government will continue with the construction of footbridges nationwide, as well as the Likalaneng–Thaba-Tseka Road upgrading for which M40 million was allocated. Furthermore an amount of M20 million was budgeted for roads projects related to the new State House.

Works are ongoing on the Ha Leshoele–Mathokoane–Setene–Ha Bene roads in Leribe District by China GEO Engineering at a cost of M535 million. Covering 40 kilometres, the road forms a loop from the Main North 1 at Ha Leshoele junction near Hlotse, passes through Ha Mositi and Mathokoane villages, and ends at Ha Bene junction, joining the Main North 1 near the village of St Monica’s. M200 million was set aside in the 2017/18 budget for the Leshoele–Mathokoane section of the road.

The 140-metre Bethel Bridge being built over the Senqu River in Mohale’s Hoek by Stefanutti Stocks Civil will cost some M137.3 million. A sum of M20 million was committed to the project for the 2017/18 fiscal year. Other projects under the development budget include M2 million for the Oxbow to Mokhotlong Road and a further M12.5 million for the road from Mokhotlong to Sani Pass.

These abovementioned development projects are all financed by the Government of Lesotho.At the same time, the Road Fund is financing the upgrading of existing paved roads (M180 million) and the paving of new roads (M150 million).

Footbridges

The Roads Directorate constructs and maintains footbridges to facilitate access by rural communities to basic services and markets. While enhancing access to social and health services, footbridges also enhance residents’ safety, minimising the chance of drowning while crossing swollen rivers during the rainy season. Construction of these footbridges in the districts of Qacha’s Nek, Quthing and Mohale’s Hoek, where a lot of travel takes place on bridle paths, tracks and earth roads, has also contributed to the alleviation of poverty caused by rural isolation. A further M10 million was set aside for the construction of footbridges in 2017/18.

Transport and traffic

The Department of Transport and Traffic is responsible for the efficient operation of road transport, ensuring the availability of public transport and monitoring the participation of the private sector. The Lesotho Road Fund operates on a fee-for-service basis to enable road users to contribute towards road maintenance and construction. The fund’s largest source of revenue has historically been the road maintenance levy, which is included in the price of fuel, followed by tollgate fees and licence fees on motor vehicles.

Economic growth in the country is encouraged by the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), which initiates, promotes and facilitates the development of manufacturing and processing industries, mining and commerce, in a manner calculated to raise levels of income and employment. Supported by a Government-administered incentive regime, LNDC enjoys clear channels of communication with relevant departments and parastatals in order to speed up service delivery, and has had success in attracting labour-intensive manufacturing enterprises.

The LNDC also provides pre-investment and after-care services to both prospective and existing investors to help simplify and shorten the processes related to investment. Examples include facilitating the procurement of all permits and licenses, as well as providing assistance with company registration. Investment project appraisals are undertaken, along with equity participation in projects considered to be of strategic importance to the national economy and demonstrating long-term viability.

The Corporation collaborates with South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) on matters of mutual benefit, such as capacity building, technical assistance, economic research, project financing, co-investment in projects and exchange of information for strategic cooperation regarding delegation visits and business symposiums. There have also been consultations with the IDC and African Development Bank to secure lines of credit to finance new investment projects and to capitalise a new equity financing scheme for local entrepreneurs.

The LNDC is involved in offering training, which it undertakes through an Industrial Attachment Scheme. This exposes Basotho graduates to opportunities within the country’s various industrial sectors as well as enabling them to gain the requisite practical skills to prepare them for the job market.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is currently focused on restructuring and/or improving the capacity of business development support institutions to enhance service delivery and institute mechanisms for improved coordination. In this regard, a consultant has been engaged to revise the LNDC mandate and re-engineer organisational business processes and systems, as well as finalising the amendment of the LNDC Act

The Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) Business Partnership Forum, which was launched in October 2011, creates a platform for business people to discuss issues related to tax as well as the promotion of the business sector in Lesotho. Its objectives are, among others, to serve as a platform through which the LRA Customs Department and the business community can forge strong partnerships to educate people in business about the need to foster customs compliance. This has seen the development of the Preferred Trader Scheme under the Customs Modernisation Programme and the roll-out of the ASYCUDA World System.

Launched in 2009, the Private Sector Foundation of Lesotho (PSFL) is the umbrella body for the private sector in the country. Its overall objective is to promote and ensure sustained dialogue between Government and the private sector as well as to facilitate the promotion and development of a dynamic private sector.

Private taxi and bus transport operators dominate the public transport subsector, and the parastatal Lesotho Freight and Bus Services Corporation is charged with operating on remote roads that are inadequately serviced and where commercial carriers do not exist. Sixteen-seat private minibus taxis provide most public transport in rural areas and cater for commuters in peri-urban areas. Some larger buses cover inter-urban routes and saloon taxis work in and around towns. Operating outside the regulatory framework, 4×4 pickups provide essential public transport on difficult routes inaccessible to minibuses.

The forthcoming Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity Project will focus on establishing the Lesotho Integrated Transport Information System (LITIS); an integrated record management system for revenue collection, driver licensing and vehicle inspection.

Road safety initiatives

Lesotho faces a number of challenges in road safety, with high fatality rates in densely populated districts and numerous road accidents in the mountain areas. Road safety problems are twofold. In the more densely populated lowlands districts of Maseru and Leribe, where approximately 50 percent of deaths occur, pedestrians are the main victims. In the highlands, where driving conditions on winding roads through mountainous terrain prove challenging, the incidence of road accidents is high.

Annual road accident fatalities averaged around 300 between 2009 and 2013, falling to 222 and 228 deaths in 2014 and 2015, respectively. However, this figure rose once more in 2016 to 318, a rate of 15.9 fatalities per 100 000 of the population. This compares with the rate of around five per 100 000 in the safest countries in the world.

The Roads Safety Department and soon to be operationalised National Road Safety Council (NRSC) oversee improvements in road transport safety as well as the security of people along road traffic corridors. Lesotho has embraced the Decade of Action for Road Safety (2011-2020), a United Nations initiative aiming to intensify measures to promote the protection of people’s lives on the roads over a ten-year period. The programme highlights expanding the capacity of road safety management to improve the behaviour of road users as well as to enhance post-crash care. The aim is to reduce the number of road deaths by half by 2020.

Road Safety Programme activities developed under the now concluded ITP included the establishment of a driver training and examination system, a vehicle inspection system, a road accident database, and traffic surveillance equipment. The NRSC was approved by the Cabinet and a Road Safety Policy was drafted. Chaired by the Principal Secretary in the MoPWT, the NRSC is mandated to coordinate all organisations involved in road safety, in addition to monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of road safety strategies, approving road safety budgets and formulating road safety policies, actions plans, education and related legislation. The NRSC is presently being operationalised, pending the necessary legal amendments. In this regard the MoPWT submitted an amended Road Traffic Bill to the Parliamentary Council in May 2017.

The MoPWT’s medium term objective includes implementation of activities relating to the Road Safety Decade of Action to help reduce the high incidences of road crashes and thereby saving the country millions in terms of human resources and money. The existing road network needs to be monitored and assessed to ensure that improvements are introduced through a structured programme, with collaboration between the Road Directorate, Department of Road Safety and the Department of Traffic and Transport. Road safety audits are critical in identifying potential safety problems with new and existing road projects and designs. Another road safety priority is to properly equip the department to remove snow on the roads during the harsh Lesotho winters.

AIR TRANSPORT

Lesotho’s Moshoeshoe I International Airport (MIA) is situated about 20 kilometres outside of Maseru in Mazenod. With a tarred runway measuring 3 200 metres in length, it is suitable for medium-range jet aircraft such as the Boeing 727. Facilities include two passenger terminals, one cargo terminal and four runways. The terminal building has amenities such as a bureau de change, bar and restaurant, left luggage facilities, gift shop and tourism information kiosk. There are also facilities for the disabled.

Domestic air transport services utilise a network of 24 airstrips – 12 of which are currently operational – providing secondary and, in some cases, primary access to a number of the country’s most isolated rural areas. The airstrips at Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong have tarred runways, while the others have gravel or grass airstrips that are utilised mainly by the Lesotho Flying Doctors Service.

SA Airlink offers at least three flights per day between Moshoeshoe I International Airport and OR Tambo (ORT) International Airport in Johannesburg. Flying time to Johannesburg is approximately 55 minutes. From ORT there are connecting flights to a range of international destinations.

The Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) Airwing was initially established in 1978 to support the country’s land force. It operates three fixed-wing aircraft and six helicopters out of Mejametalana Airbase, situated north-east of Maseru at an elevation of 5 100 feet above sea level.

The airport has undergone a M70.894-million upgrading project in order to attract more fixed-wing aircraft from neighbouring countries. This has seen the construction of the main taxiway, which is 1 300 metres long and 30 metres wide and capable of accommodating medium class aircraft with an all-up weight not exceeding 16 500 kilograms, for both day and night flying operations.

In October 2017, Lesotho’s Deputy Prime Minister, Monyane Moleleki, commissioned the LDF Airwing’s new H125 helicopter and operationalised the rehabilitated main runway at Mejametalana Airbase.

The Airwing occupies a strategic niche in Lesotho’s national security spectrum, ranging from its defensive role capabilities to the provision of operational support in tactical and non-tactical situations. It also provides an important service to Government, NGOs and the public in undertaking socioeconomic and developmental ventures, particularly in the remote mountain areas which are not easily reached by road.

Missions include the distribution of books and stationery to schools in the highlands, as well as the transportation of medical staff, construction materials, equipment and supplies to health centres. Humanitarian missions are also carried out, such as food relief operations and emergency rescue services. Airwing aircraft are involved in displays for events such as the Army Day and the King’s Birthday celebrations. In addition, they take part in military exercises with other SADC member states, as well as regional search and rescue training and operations.

The 2017 addition of the H125 helicopter – nicknamed ‘Litsebe’ – to the current fleet will enhance the Airwing’s operational capability in continuing to provide airlift support for various missions, including the delivery of old-age pension payments and election material, not to mention health outreaches. The helicopter will also help address the issue of stock theft, particularly along the Drakensberg range where there are 144 kilometres of passes which serve as entry points for animal theft.

Infrastructure development

Kicking off in the 2017/18 fiscal year, the US $63.2 million expansion project at Moshoeshoe I International Airport aims to meet existing and forecast demands for passenger and cargo facilities. Furthermore, its completion will allow Lesotho to comply with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. Funding has been received from several development partners, led by the Kuwait Fund.

The project includes the following components:

  • Increasing the handling capacity of the airport by extension of the runway to accommodate larger aircraft
  • Construction of a new VIP terminal building
  • Renovation of the existing terminal building
  • Installation of navigation aids, such as improved airfield and apron lighting
  • General improvements to the quality of service at the airport

The Kuwait Fund is financing the upgrading of Moshoeshoe I International in an amount of M350 million during the 2017/18 fiscal year, while the contribution from the Lesotho Government amounts to M11 million for that period.

Government will also explore the possibility of working with the Mohlakeng Council to turn the airport area into a business district anchoring the aviation service. There have been reports that some global aviation players may be interested in this broader aviation and industrial concept.

Other developments have seen Government, with the assistance of BADEA, improve the safety and security of the airport with the installation of navigation aids and the purchase of two new fire trucks. A bank of solar panels, which produce 280 kilowatts of electricity to power the terminal building, was installed at MIA by the Department of Energy through a grant from the Japanese Government, and went into operation during 2013.

Regulation

The regulation and promotion of civil aviation, development of infrastructure and licensing of air transport operators is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Civil Aviation. It participates in the activities of a number of international civil aviation organisations and upholds international conventions on aviation, all with the objective of achieving safety, efficiency and regularity of service and creating an environment conducive to the development of regional and international trade and tourism. A bilateral air services agreement between Lesotho and South Africa that was signed in 1990 has been reviewed and renegotiated.

RAILWAYS & FREIGHT HUBS

Lesotho has 2.5 kilometres of narrow-gauge railway along the border with South Africa at Maseru West industrial area. This connects the capital city of Maseru via the border bridge on the Mohokare (Caledon) River to South Africa’s Bloemfontein-Bethlehem line. Two freight trains run every day, carrying mainly cement, maize, fuel and freight containers and making up about one third of Lesotho’s international trade in bulk goods. While there has been backing from SADC for the development of a rail link that would run from Maseru to South Africa’s sea ports of Durban and Port Elizabeth, with the Lesotho Government seeking funds to conduct a feasibility study, support from Transnet has not been forthcoming.

Maseru Container Terminal

The Maseru Container Terminal (MASCON), that was operated by Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) until 2009 and then by South African company InfraDev up to May 2013, is presently managed by the MoPWT. Various studies, consultancies and designs have been undertaken which aim to develop MASCON into a dry port that will be operated by a semi-autonomous government agency. In the interim, the Government of Lesotho has made a number of improvements at MASCON, including the purchase of two reach stackers that are instrumental in the loading and off-loading of containers, the fencing of the perimeter area and the levelling of the platform for the safe storage of containers.