INTRODUCTION: To achieve viral suppression among more than 90% of people on antiretroviral therapy (ART), improved understanding is warranted of the modifiable causes of HIV viremic episodes. We assessed the relative contributions of drug-resistance, nonadherence and low-level viremia (LLV) (viral load 50-999 cps/ml) on viremic episodes in sub-Saharan Africa. METHODS: In a multicountry adult cohort initiating nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor-based first-line ART, viremic episodes (viral load ≥1000 cps/ml) were classified as first, viral nonsuppression at 12 months; second, virological rebound at 24 months (after initial viral suppression at 12 months); third, failure to achieve viral resuppression at 24 months (after viremic episode at 12 months). We used adjusted odds ratios from multivariable logistic regression to estimate attributable fractions for each risk factor. RESULTS: Of 2737 cohort participants, 1935 had data on pretreatment drug resistance (PDR) and at least 1 viral load outcome. Viral nonsuppression episodes [173/1935 (8.9%)] were attributable to nonadherence in 30% (35% in men vs. 24% in women) and to PDR to nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors in 10% (15% in women vs. 6% in men). Notably, at contemporary PDR prevalences of 10-25%, PDR would explain 13-30% of viral nonsuppression. Virological rebound episodes [96/1515 (6.3%)] were mostly attributable to LLV (29%) and nonadherence (14%), and only rarely to PDR (1.1%). Failures to achieve viral resuppression [66/81 (81.5%)] were mostly attributable to the presence of acquired drug resistance (34%) and only rarely to nonadherence (2.4%). CONCLUSION: Effective adherence interventions could substantially reduce viral nonsuppression (especially in men) and virological rebound (especially during LLV), but would have limited effect on improving viral resuppression. Alternative ART regimens could circumvent PDR and acquired resistance.