Mechanisms by which tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures influence vegetation in Eastern Africa and which role drought-induced fires play have not been fully explored. Here, we use a suite of idealized Earth system model simulations to elucidate the governing processes for eastern African interannual vegetation changes. Our analysis focuses on Tanzania. In the absence of ENSO-induced sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies in the Tropical Indian Ocean (TIO), El Niño causes during its peak phase negative precipitation anomalies over Tanzania due to a weakening of the tropical-wide Walker circulation and anomalous descending motion over the Indian Ocean and southeastern Africa. Resulting drought conditions increase the occurrence of wildfires, which leads to a marked decrease in vegetation cover. Subsequent wetter La Niña conditions in boreal winter reverse the trend in vegetation, causing a gradual 1-year-long recovery phase. The 2-year-long vegetation response in Tanzania can be explained as a double-integration of the local rainfall anomalies, which originate from the seasonally-modulated ENSO Pacific-SST forcing (Combination mode). In the presence of interannual TIO SST forcing, the southeast African precipitation and vegetation responses to ENSO are muted due to Indian Ocean warming and the resulting anomalous upward motion in the atmosphere.