Phylogeography of Rice yellow mottle virus (RYMV) was reconstructed from the coat protein gene sequences of a selection of 173 isolates from the 14 countries of mainland Africa where the disease occurred and from the full sequences of 16 representative isolates. Genetic variation was linked to geographical distribution and not to host species as isolates from wild rice always clustered with isolates from cultivated rice of the same region. Genetic variation was not associated to agro-ecology, viral interference and insect vector species. Distinct RYMV lineages occurred in East, Central and West Africa, although the Central African lineage included isolates from Benin, Togo and Niger at the west, adjacent to countries of the West African lineage. Genetic subdivision at finer geographical scales was apparent within lineages of Central and West Africa, although less pronounced than in East Africa. Physical obstacles, but also habitat fragmentation, as exemplified by the small low-lying island of Pemba offshore Tanzania mainland, explained strain localization. Three new highly divergent strains were found in eastern Tanzania. By contrast, intensive surveys in Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea at the west of Africa did not reveal any new variant. Altogether, this supported the view that the Eastern Arc Mountains biodiversity hotspot was the centre of origin of RYMV and that the virus spread subsequently from east to west across Africa. In West Africa, specific strains occurred in the Inner Niger Delta and suggested it was a secondary centre of diversification. Processes for diversification and dispersion of RYMV are proposed.