Satellite RNA was sought in 51 isolates of Rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) representative of the geographical, molecular and pathogenic variability of the virus in Africa. Three-quarters of the isolates from cultivated rice and wild gramineaceous hosts supported a satellite RNA. The prevalence of RYMV isolates that were associated with a satellite differed among regions, being c. 100% in West and Central Africa and c. 36% in East Africa. The RYMV satellite showed a low diversity as only seven of the 220 sequenced positions were variable. One insertion also occurred after serial host passages of the satellite. Two forms of the satellite differed by six substitutions forming three base pairs in one branch of the predicted RNA secondary structure. There was no evidence of intermediates between these two forms, but double-infection occurred. Each form had a specific geographical distribution: one occurred in Central Africa, the other elsewhere in Africa. There was no relation between the occurrence or the forms of the satellite and the phylogeny of the helper virus. The satellite was not involved in symptom modulation or ability to break host-plant resistances to the disease.