Palynological records from the Congo fan reveal environmental change in equatorial Africa occurring 1.05 Ma ago, 100 k.y. before the mid-Pleistocene climatic shift at 0.9 Ma. Prior to 1.05 Ma, a glacial-interglacial rhythm is not obvious in the African vegetation variation. Afterwards, Podocarpus spread in the mountains of central Africa mainly during glacials and Congo River discharge decreased. The sequence of vegetation variation associated with the mid-Pleistocene glacials and interglacials differed from that observed during the late Pleistocene. Between 0.9 and 0.6 Ma, interglacials were characterized by warm dry conditions and glacials were characterized by cool humid conditions, while during the past 0.2 Ma glacials were cold and dry and interglacials warm and humid. Our data indicate that before the Northern Hemisphere ice caps dramatically increased in size (0.9–0.6 Ma), low-latitude climate forcing and response in the tropics played an important role in the initiation of 100 k.y. ice-age cycles. During the mid to late Pleistocene, however, the climate conditions in the tropics were increasingly influenced by the glacial-interglacial variations of continental ice sheets.