When 41 populations from Africa (south of the Sahara) and Indian Ocean islands were analysed for their chromosomal inversion polymorphism, 34 rearrangements were found, including the four common cosmopolitans (In(2L)t, In(2R)NS, In(3L)P and In(3R)P), four rare cosmopolitans (In(2L)NS, In(3R)C, In(3R)Mo and In(3R)K) and six African polymorphic ('recurrent') endemics. Mean inversion frequencies per major autosome arm were positively and, generally, highly correlated to each other. There was no altitudinal nor latitudinal cline of inversion frequency, except for one African polymorphic endemic. Significant longitudinal clines were detected for In(2L)t, In(3L)P and In(3R)K; in all cases, inversion frequencies decreased eastward. Principal components analysis and ANOVA made it possible to distinguish three groups of populations. A high level of polymorphism was found in populations from west tropical Africa. The other low altitude populations from the mainland were moderately polymorphic, whereas the lowest levels of polymorphism were those of high altitude populations and of Indian Ocean islands. Moreover, some regional and local differentiation was also found. The frequency of unique autosomal inversions was not different from those found in Asia, Australia and America, but was significantly higher than that in Europe and North Africa. A West-East differentiation was also observed for the African polymorphic endemics. The present geographic pattern suggests a long, patchy evolution with restricted gene flow, followed by the modern period with numerous recent migrations linked to human transportation.