The epidemiology of Mycobacterium bovis infection in animals and humans is described, together with a review of available reports on the distribution and prevalence of this mycobacteriosis in Africa. The significance of these reports is considered, with particular emphasis on the potential zoonotic importance of bovine tuberculosis as a cause for public health concern in Africa. Published data describing tuberculosis in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s show that bovine tuberculosis was considered to be a significant zoonosis: M. bovis was responsible for more than 50% of cervical lymphadenitis cases in children. Despite the paucity of information on M. bovis infection in Africa, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that it is widely distributed and is found at significantly high prevalence in some populations of animals. Some epidemiological conditions for the spread of M. bovis infection between animals and humans are very similar in Africa today to those in Europe in the 1930s, with the added and potent impact of the epidemic of human immunodeficiency virus infection. The public health threat of tuberculosis in Africa requires urgent investigation through collaborative veterinary/medical research programmes.