Many states in the developing world cannot consistently deliver public goods or credibly threaten coercion in order to generate widespread citizen compliance. Why do some citizens still comply? We argue that legacies of early statehood interact with post-colonial ethnic politics to produce conditional quasi-voluntary compliance. Historical exposure to centralized political authority increases citizen compliance with the state due to persistent state-centric norms, but this relationship is conditional on contemporary access to state power. We combine a novel indicator of historical state exposure in Africa with a large sample of geo-located survey respondents to test the argument. Our results indicate that proximity to historical capital cities is associated with greater compliance for respondents whose ethnic groups currently hold executive-level state power. A case study of compliance with vaccination mandates in the pre-colonial kingdom of Buganda provides additional evidence in support of our argument.