Carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere from inland waters—streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs—are nearly equivalent to ocean and land sinks globally. Inland waters can be an important source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions as well, but emissions are poorly quantified, especially in Africa. Here we report dissolved carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide concentrations from 12 rivers in sub-Saharan Africa, including seasonally resolved sampling at 39 sites, acquired between 2006 and 2014. Fluxes were calculated from published gas transfer velocities, and upscaled to the area of all sub-Saharan African rivers using available spatial data sets. Carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from river channels alone were about 0.4 Pg carbon per year, equivalent to two-thirds of the overall net carbon land sink previously reported for Africa. Including emissions from wetlands of the Congo river increases the total carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse-gas emissions to about 0.9 Pg carbon per year, equivalent to about one quarter of the global ocean and terrestrial combined carbon sink. Riverine carbon dioxide and methane emissions increase with wetland extent and upland biomass. We therefore suggest that future changes in wetland and upland cover could strongly affect greenhouse-gas emissions from African inland waters.