Despite the low levels of taxation and public good provision in Africa, I provide evidence that a large proportion of Africans prefer lower taxation and fewer public goods. This cannot be explained by standard arguments about problems of accountability, governance or state capacity. Instead I argue that it reflects deeply seated ideas about the nature of the state and its potential threats to the autonomy of society. I show the historic social contracts in Africa rarely featured taxation and kept the state to limited jurisdictions. These social contracts have in many ways reproduced themselves and influence the way Africa is governed today.