Historical atmospheric model simulations indicate that observed SST variations contributed significantly to the East Africa drying trend during March-May 1979-2013. By contrast, historical coupled model simulations indicate that external radiative forcing alone, including the ocean’s response to that forcing, did not contribute significantly to East Africa drying. Recognizing that the observed SST variations involved a comingling of natural and anthropogenic effects, we diagnosed how East African rainfall sensitivity was conditionally dependent on the interplay of those factors. East African rainfall trends in historical coupled models were inter-compared between two composites of ENSO-like decadal variability, one operating in the early 20th century before appreciable global warming and the other in the early 21st century of strong global warming. We find the co-action of global warming with ENSO-like decadal variability to significantly enhance 35-yr East Africa drying trends relative to when the natural mode of ocean variability acts alone. A human-induced change and its interplay with natural variability is thus speculated to be a key aspect toward understanding recent Africa drying; however, our results are suggestive owing to differences among two independent suites of coupled model ensembles.