The direct radiative effect (DRE) of aerosols above clouds has been found to be significant over the south-east Atlantic Ocean during the African biomass burning season due to elevated smoke layers absorbing radiation above the cloud deck. So far, global climate models have been unsuccessful in reproducing the high DRE values measured by various satellite instruments. Meanwhile, the radiative effects by aerosols have been identified as the largest source of uncertainty in global climate models. In this paper, three independent satellite datasets of DRE during the biomass burning season in 2006 are compared to constrain the south-east Atlantic radiation budget. The DRE of aerosols above clouds is derived from the spectrometer SCanning Imaging Absorption spectroMeter for Atmospheric CHartographY (SCIAMACHY), the polarimeter Polarization and Directionality of the Earth's Reflectances (POLDER), and collocated measurements by the spectrometer Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) and the imager Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS). All three datasets confirm the high DRE values during the biomass season, underlining the relevance of local aerosol effects. Differences between the instruments can be attributed mainly to sampling issues. When these are accounted for, the remaining differences can be explained by a higher cloud optical thickness (COT) derived from POLDER compared to the other instruments and a neglect of aerosol optical thickness (AOT) at shortwave infrared (SWIR) wavelengths in the method used for SCIAMACHY and OMI-MODIS. The higher COT from POLDER by itself can explain the difference found in DRE between POLDER and the other instruments. The AOT underestimation is mainly evident at high values of the aerosol DRE and accounts for about a third of the difference between POLDER and OMI-MODIS DRE. The datasets from POLDER and OMI-MODIS effectively provide lower and upper bounds for the aerosol DRE over clouds over the south-east Atlantic, which can be used to challenge global circulation models (GCMs). Comparisons of model and satellite datasets should also account for sampling issues. The complementary DRE retrievals from OMI-MODIS and POLDER may benefit from upcoming satellite missions that combine spectrometer and polarimeter measurements..