The Atlantic cold tongue (ACT) develops during spring and early summer near the Equator in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Guinea. The hypothesis that the ACT accelerates the timing of West African monsoon (WAM) onset is tested by comparing two regional climate model (RM3) simulation ensembles. Observed sea surface temperatures (SST) that include the ACT are used to force a control ensemble. An idealized, warm SST perturbation is designed to represent lower boundary forcing without the ACT for the experiment ensemble. Summer simulations forced by observed SST and reanalysis boundary conditions for each of five consecutive years are compared to five parallel runs forced by SST with the warm perturbation. The article summarizes the sequence of events leading to the onset of the WAM in the Sahel region. The representation of WAM onset in RM3 simulations is examined and compared to Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP) and reanalysis data. The study evaluates the sensitivity of WAM onset indicators to the presence of the ACT by analysing the differences between the two simulation ensembles. Results show that the timing of major rainfall events and therefore the WAM onset in the Sahel are not sensitive to the presence of the ACT. However, the warm SST perturbation does increase downstream rainfall rates over West Africa as a consequence of enhanced specific humidity and enhanced northward moisture flux in the lower troposphere.