Abstract The aim of this review is to provide a basis for selecting a suitable hydrological model, or combination of models, for hydrological drought forecasting in Africa at different temporal and spatial scales; for example short and medium range (1–10days or monthly) forecasts at medium to large river basin scales or seasonal forecasts at the Pan-African scale. Several global hydrological models are currently available with different levels of complexity and data requirements. However, most of these models are likely to fail to properly represent the water balance components that are particularly relevant in arid and semi-arid basins in sub-Saharan Africa. This review critically looks at weaknesses and strengths in the representation of different hydrological processes and fluxes of each model. The major criteria used for assessing the suitability of the models are (1) the representation of the processes that are most relevant for simulating drought conditions, such as interception, evaporation, surface water-groundwater interactions in wetland areas and flood plains and soil moisture dynamics; (2) the capability of the model to be downscaled from a continental scale to a large river basin scale model; and (3) the applicability of the model to be used operationally for drought early warning, given the data availability of the region. This review provides a framework for selecting models for hydrological drought forecasting, conditional on spatial scale, data availability and end-user forecast requirements. Among 16 well known hydrological and land surface models selected for this review, PCR-GLOBWB, GWAVA, HTESSEL, LISFLOOD and SWAT show higher potential and suitability for hydrological drought forecasting in Africa based on the criteria used in this evaluation.