GEOGRAPHY: Lesotho, a mountainous kingdom of about 1.4 million people encircled by South Africa, is slightly larger than Maryland.

PEOPLE: The Basotho people comprise the majority of the population, which is largely Christian. There are small European and Asian minorities. The official languages are English and Sesotho, the language of the Basotho. Adult literacy, at about 60 percent, is high for Africa.

ECONOMY: One of the world's poorest countries, Lesotho is economically dependent on South Africa, its principal trading partner and energy supplier. More than half of its male work force is employed in South Africa. Most of the domestic labor force is involved in agriculture and livestock raising. Diamonds are the chief export, followed by wool and mohair.

HISTORY: Lesotho became a British protectorate in 1868 and gained independence within the Commonwealth in 1966 with King Moshoeshoe II as head of state.

POLITICS: Leabua Jonathan, who was overthrown Monday, became prime minister after his Basutoland National Party won preindependence elections. He took a strongly pro-West stance and sought to maintain smooth ties with South Africa. In 1970, after the only election to be held since independence appeared to have been won by the opposition, he set aside the results. He has ruled since then with a firm hand, detaining political opponents and shifting to increasingly harsh criticism of his white-ruled neighbor and support for African liberation movements. In 1983, visits to several communist countries were followed by the opening of North Korean, Chinese and Soviet embassies in the capital, Maseru. Elections set for last fall were canceled after opposition charges of rigging.