Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change. In the upcoming decades the occurrence of longer, hotter and more frequent heat waves could have a strong impact on human mortality and crop production. Here, by applying the heat wave magnitude index daily to temperature reanalysis data, we quantify the magnitude and the spatial extent of the most extreme heat waves experienced in Africa between 1979 and October 2015 across different seasons. Results show that in the recent years Africa experienced hotter, longer and more extent heat waves than in the last two decades of the 20th century. In the future, 50% of regional climateprojections suggest that heat waves that are unusual under present climate conditions will occur on a regular basis by 2040 under the most severe IPCC AR5 scenario (i.e. RCP8.5).