There is little scientific consensus on the importance of external climate forcings—including anthropogenic aerosols, volcanic aerosols, and greenhouse gases (GHG)—relative to each other and to internal variability in dictating past and future Sahel rainfall. We address this query by relating a 3-tiered multi-model mean (MMM) over the Climate Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 “twentieth century” and pre-Industrial control simulations to observations. The comparison of single-forcing and historical simulations highlights the importance of anthropogenic and volcanic aerosols over GHG in generating forced Sahel rainfall variability in models. However, the forced MMM only accounts for a small fraction of observed variance. A residual consistency test shows that simulated internal variability cannot explain the residual observed multidecadal variability, and points to model deficiency in simulating multidecadal variability in the forced response, internal variability, or both.