Founder and king of Basutoland
Founder and king of the Basotho nation (present-day LESOTHO), Moshoeshoe I was noted for his military skill and diplomatic abilities. He played a major role in protecting Lesotho from conquest by European settlers, and he helped the country achieve independence. Originally named Lepoqo, Moshoeshoe was the son of a Koena chief. While a young adult, Moshoeshoe gained a reputation as a leader by making daring cattle raids. Yet he was impatient and hot-tempered, and he killed followers for minor offenses. A local wise man told him that being just and humane would make him a more successful leader. This advice helped Moshoeshoe to realize that peace, not war, would gain him more faithful followers. Using this approach, he united various small groups to form the Basotho nation by the early 1830s. During that time, Moshoeshoe studied the complex relationships between African and European populations and learned to deal with them in a positive manner. By showing he was a strong and intelligent leader, Moshoeshoe earned the respect of other African leaders and colonial officials, which would prove to be an important factor in his struggles to maintain an independent Basotho nation.
The greatest challenges facing Moshoeshoe during his reign were attempts by European settlers to conquer the Basotho people and seize their land. At first Britain sided with the settlers. In 1852 a British force invaded Lesotho, but Moshoeshoe defeated them. Over the next 15 years, the settlers tried to overpower Moshoeshoe and his followers but failed. Through his diplomatic skill, Moshoeshoe earned the respect of colonial officials and brought the British government over to his side. By forging an alliance with Britain and gaining its protection, he helped save the Basotho from European control. As a result, the people of Lesotho consider Moshoeshoe the father of the country. (See also Southern Africa, History.)