Science in Africa is advancing but is under great pressure: a mix of limited resources, increasing expectations, tensions between competition and cooperation, and the need for evidence-based funding is creating major changes in how scientific research is perceived and conducted. At the centre of this ‘perfect storm’ is the concept ‘research excellence’ which drives the strategies and careers of many scientists, but also the priorities of research funding agencies. But what exactly is ‘excellent’ science in Africa? This panel intends to take a critical view of this issue from a practical and managerial point of view: how should we recognize, monitor and assess it? Two recent publications will serve as an analytical framework: Tijssen, R. and Kraemer-Mbula, E. (2018). Research excellence in Africa: policies, perceptions and performance. Science and Public Policy, 45, 392-403, 2018, and Kraemer-Mbula, E., Tijssen, R., Wallace, M. and McLean, R. (2020). Transforming Research Excellence: New Ideas from the Global South, Cape Town: African Minds (open access; ISBN 978-1-9288502-08-e-pub).