An emphyteusis is a type of contract in real estate between a buyer and a seller (an emphyteuta and a real owner respectively). It is a kind of lease, but also gives the emphyteuta rights that resemble those of an owner. You can think of it as a property sale transaction for a predetermined period of time.

In any case, as an emphyteuta you won’t be able to resell the property to somebody else. Under certain circumstances, you may be able to refinance through a bank. It really depends on the country or jurisdiction in which the emphyteusis was signed.

An emphyteusis may also be inherited and/or renewed for another term by your descendants. The maximum allowed length of an emphyteusis can be anywhere from 50 to 99 years. In Kenya, it is up to 999 years.

Generally, you don’t have to spend so much time studying the countries that offer such a contract to conclude that there is a tendency, or preference, among countries that had been colonized by either France or Great Britain to offer the emphyteusis as an option to foreign investors who are interested in establishing their enterprises in the said country.

The ruling class in those countries (such as Madagascar, Kenya, Tunisia) have chosen not to challenge the strong labor unions and other groups defending the sovereignty of their land—and the call for exclusive ownership of land to citizens—and instead opted for offering the emphyteusis as a viable option that still does not give up the sovereignty of the property indefinitely.

That doesn’t mean that emphyteusis isn’t facing national resistance by various groups or political leaders in these countries. In fact, many NGOs and associations in Africa are working towards land reform, calling for the protection of land from foreign investors —lest they bring their highly valued foreign currencies, and buy the whole country!

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