Despite growing evidence that methane (CH4) formation could also occur in well-oxygenated surface fresh waters, its significance at the ecosystem scale is uncertain. Empirical models based on data gathered at high latitude predict that the contribution of oxic CH4 increases with lake size and should represent the majority of CH4 emissions in large lakes. However, such predictive models could not directly apply to tropical lakes, which differ from their temperate counterparts in some fundamental characteristics, such as year-round elevated water temperature. We conducted stable-isotope tracer experiments, which revealed that oxic CH4 production is closely related to phytoplankton metabolism and is a common feature in five contrasting African lakes. Nevertheless, methanotrophic activity in surface waters and CH4 emissions to the atmosphere were predominantly fuelled by CH4 generated in sediments and physically transported to the surface. Indeed, CH4 bubble dissolution flux and diffusive benthic CH4 flux were several orders of magnitude higher than CH4 production in surface waters. Microbial CH4 consumption dramatically decreased with increasing sunlight intensity, suggesting that the freshwater CH4 paradox"might be also partly explained by photo-inhibition of CH4 oxidizers in the illuminated zone. Sunlight appeared as an overlooked but important factor determining the CH4 dynamics in surface waters, directly affecting its production by photoautotrophs and consumption by methanotrophs.