Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to explore the extent of visibility of researchers in African countries, in the Open Access (OA) arena and aims to identify main causes of reduced uptake in OA in Africa. Design/methodology/approach - Extent of visibility is explored by quantitative analysis of institutional repository and OA journals data sets followed by qualitative analysis of OA foundation documents and literature on OA in Africa published mainly between 2003 and 2013. Findings - Visibility in institutional repositories or OA journals for African researchers remains low. Causes include insufficient educational support for librarians and administrators in required new roles; inability of national, organisational and technological infrastructures to support OA; impracticality of western-based and costly publishing models; and disincentives relating to intellectual property and researcher perceptions. Complex language and literacy issues also inhibit engagement. Recommendations include strong OA advocacy, development of support initiatives, integration of international knowledge for local conditions and vice versa, sensitive preservation of indigenous knowledge and development of mechanisms of funding and research assessment mechanisms, which are economically and technically viable. Originality/value - Earlier attempts were made to raise awareness about the lack of uptake of OA in Africa. This paper shows that the situation has hardly changed and now requires urgent attention. Otherwise OA will not "become the default method for distributing new peer-reviewed research in every field and country" by 2022 (BOAI, 2012).