Why do citizens assent to pay tax? On what condition do private individuals agree to commit their personal income to a public fund at the disposal of the state? What are the reciprocal responsibilities of the state expected in return for this remarkable act? The paper poses these questions in the context of African states and tests three distinct theoretical perspectives: i) the fiscal exchange thesis that emphasizes the vertical relationship between citizen and state – specifically the services received in return for tax ii) the ‘national political community’ approach, which highlights the horizontal relationship between citizens, in terms of the extent of national identification and iii) the comparative treatment perspective, focused on how the state treats the citizen relative to their compatriots. An ordered probit model is employed to test these theories, using micro data from the latest rounds of surveys conducted by Afrobarometer. The results provide support for certain aspects of the fiscal exchange, no backing for national community approaches and more persuasive support for the comparative treatment thesis. These findings challenge existing accounts, which focus exclusively on fiscal exchange and national community, and suggests new avenues for research, as comparative treatment has to date not been applied in the literature on tax attitudes. The paper concludes by considering the implications of the findings for wider debates about the legitimacy of African states.