Tropical sub-Saharan regions are considered to be the geographical origin of Drosophila melanogaster. Starting from there, the species colonized the rest of the world after the last glaciation about 10 000 years ago. Consistent with this demographic scenario, African populations have been shown to harbour higher levels of microsatellite and sequence variation than cosmopolitan populations. Nevertheless, limited information is available on the genetic structure of African populations. We used X chromosomal microsatellite variation to study the population structure of D. melanogaster populations using 13 sampling sites in North, West and East Africa. These populations were compared to six European and one North American population. Significant population structure was found among African D. melanogaster populations. Using a Bayesian method for inferring population structure we detected two distinct groups of populations among African D. melanogaster. Interestingly, the comparison to cosmopolitan D. melanogaster populations indicated that one of the divergent African groups is closely related to cosmopolitan flies. Low, but significant levels of differentiation were observed for sub-Saharan D. melanogaster populations from West and East Africa.