New compilations of African pollen and lake data are compared with climate (CCM1, NCAR, Boulder) and vegetation (BIOME 1.2, GSG, Lund) simulations for the last glacial maximum (LGM) and early to mid-Holocene (EMH). The simulated LGM climate was ca 4°C colder and drier than present, with maximum reduction in precipitation in semi-arid regions. Biome simulations show lowering of montane vegetation belts and expansion of southern xerophytic associations, but no change in the distribution of deserts and tropical rain forests. The lakes show LGM conditions similar or drier than present throughout northern and tropical Africa. Pollen data indicate lowering of montane vegetation belts, the stability of the Sahara, and a reduction of rain forest. The paleoenvironmental data are consistent with the simulated changes in temperature and moisture budgets, although they suggest the climate model underestimates equatorial aridity. EMH simulations show temperatures slightly less than present and increased monsoonal precipitation in the eastern Sahara and East Africa. Biome simulations show an upward shift of montane vegetation belts, fragmentation of xerophytic vegetation in southern Africa, and a major northward shift of the southern margin of the eastern Sahara. The lakes indicate conditions wetter than present across northern Africa. Pollen data show an upward shift of the montane forests, the northward shift of the southern margin of the Sahara, and a major extension of tropical rain forest. The lake and pollen data confirm monsoon expansion in eastern Africa, but the climate model fails to simulate the wet conditions in western Africa.