Voters in Lesotho go to the polls on Saturday. They are hoping a new government will improve life for the two million inhabitants of the country known as 'the heavenly kingdom'.
Against a background of high unemployment and rampant HIV/AIDS, voters in Lesotho are hoping that whoever wins the elections will move to make the reforms needed to steer the country to economic growth.
Lesotho is a landlocked mountainous country and is often called the 'heavenly kingdom'.
Anyone wanting to get to Ribaneng,100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital city Maseru, has to be either a good walker or able to ride a horse. There's no road leading to the mountain village, only a trail of hoof prints snaking along the steep slopes.
The journey takes six hours on horseback, with two rivers to cross. Ribaneng is just a collection of small round huts with thatched roofs. It's the home of shepherd Sotho Madikwe.
A hard life
Madikwe's livelihood depends on selling the wool from his 14 mohair sheep.
“Life here is very hard, I not only take care of my wife and children, but also my brothers and sisters," says Madikwe, as he drives his animals back to the village. They've spent the day grazing on steep mountain slopes.
The 36-year-old would like to find a better life away from Ribaneng, but there are no jobs anywhere else.
Unemployment stands at 40% in Lesotho which is a parliamentary monarchy. Many residents, the Basotho, previously worked in South African mines. When the mines were closed, the migrant workers came back to a country where the vast majority lives from agriculture.
Sotho Madikwe hopes there'll be a change of government. "It is good that there are elections now. We get no help from the government. I will vote for the opposition ansd then maybe things will get better," he said.
The political situation in country of two million inhabitants, which is completely surrounded by South Africa, is complicated.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently described the situation as '"worrying" and called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to assess developments there ahead of the election.
In March, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili left the ruling party, the Lesotho Congress for Democracy, after a dispute. He founded his own party, the Democratic Congress. 44 of the 62 parliamentarians followed him which means that a new party is now ruling Lesotho. Right up to polling day the outcome of the election is wide open.
Back in Ribaneng, Manete Maschasha prepares the evening meal outside her hut. She cooks 'pap porridge' over an open fire in a black cast-iron pot, just as she does every day.
The 60-year-old cannot afford anything else. Her husband died seven years ago. He worked in a mine in South Africa.
Now she brews beer and sells it in the village. With the little money she makes Manete is able to support her daughter and her two grandchildren.
Unlike the shepherd Sotho Madikwe, Manete is full of praise for the current government. "There's still a lot to be done," she says, while constantly stirring the contents of the black pot, "but the government has already achieved much.”
For example, it introduced a pension system. Manete is hoping that with her pension she'll be able to help her grandchildren live a better life. But she has to wait another 10 years for that - and average life expectancy in Lesotho is 50 years.
The construction of roads and job creation are the two big issues in the election campaign. It's been largely peaceful but observers don't rule out riots as there is a high level of frustration due to the widespread poverty and unemployment.
The former Archbishop of Cape Town in South Africa, Desmond Tutu, calls Lesotho his second home. He's called for restraint on all sides. In the 1970s he worked as a bishop in Lesotho and travelled through the country, using horses and donkeys, just as Sotho Madikwe and Manete Maschasha do today.
Little has changed for the mountain-dwellers in the years since Desmond Tutu was there. And despite their hopes, it is unlikely that the elections will bring about much improvement.
Author: Jörg Poppendieck /i m
Editor: Susan Houlton