The spectacular 30 November 1999 protest against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is what most of us recall about Seattle. But inside the convention centre as negotiations got underway, African leaders were deeply concerned that WTO liberalisation would damage their tiny industrial sectors. The damage was well recognized – an OECD study found Africa to be the continent that would suffer net losses from corporate-dominated free trade. The US trade representative, Charlene Barchefsky, repeatedly insulted the African elites who raised this point. With the exception of South Africa, which enjoyed Green Room status hence an insider role to promote self-interest, the delegations from the Organisation of African Unity (since renamed the African Union) were furious, as deputy director general V.J.McKeen told journalists: “They went out to a dinner in a bus, and then were left out in the cold to walk back. To tell you to the extent that when we went into the room for our African group meeting, I mean, there was no interpretation provided. And we are - you know, at least the English and French interpretation should have been there, so one had to improvise. And then even the facilities, the microphone facilities were switched off.” Tetteh Hormeku, from the African Trade Network of progressive civil society groups, picks up the story: “By the second day of the formal negotiations, the African and other developing-country delegates had found themselves totally marginalised. This arose mainly from the non-transparent and, some would say, unlawful practices adopted by the powerful countries, supported by the host country and the WTO secretariat.” According to a statement by civil society, “African countries were not getting their positions and issues on the table for the simple reason that the table had been shifted away from the place where the negotiations were supposed to be taking place - the working groups - into exclusive Green Room discussions where they had no equal access.” Hormeku recalls that African Trade Network members “began to demand that their Northern NGO counterparts help focus attention on the outrageous practices of their various governments. The first concrete result was a joint press conference by the African Trade Network, Friends of the Earth, South Centre, Oxfam, the World Development Movement, Focus, Consumers International and New Economics Foundation. Here developing-country negotiators like Sir Sonny Ramphal (former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth) joined hands with NGO representatives to denounce the big-power manipulation of the WTO process. Many more African civil society organisations and governments spoke out.” At that point, says Hormeku, “African countries thus joined the other developing-country groups in threatening to withdraw the consensus required to reach a conclusion of the conference. By this time, even the Americans and their supporters in the WTO secretariat must have woken up to the futility of their ‘rough tactics’.” This strong will by Africans at least earned major concessions in the next WTO summit, in Doha, in November 2001. At the same time as the global justice movement began widening into an anti-imperialist movement in the wake of the USA’s post-9/11 remilitarization, African activists were delving deeper into extreme local challenges, such as combating AIDS. In Doha, African elites joined forces with activists again. On this occasion, the positive catalyst was a South African government law – the 1997 Medicines Act – which made provision for compulsory licensing of patented drugs. In 1998, a Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) formed to lobby for AIDS drugs, which in the late 1990s were prohibitively expensive - $15,000 per person per year - for nearly all South Africa’s HIV-positive people (roughly 10% of the 50 million current population). That campaign was immediately confronted by the US State Department’s attack on the SA Medicines Act, a “full court press”, as bureaucrats testified to the US Congress. Their aim was to protect intellectual property rights and halt the emergence of a parallel inexpensive supply of AIDS medicines that would undermine lucrative Western markets. US Vice President Al Gore directly intervened with SA government leaders in 1998-99, aiming to revoke the law. Then in July 1999, Gore launched his 2000 presidential election bid, a campaign generously funded by big pharmaceutical corporations (which in a prior election cycle provided $2.3 million to the Democratic Party). As an explicit counterweight, TAC’s allies in the US AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power began to protest at Gore’s campaign events. The protests ultimately threatened to cost Gore far more in adverse publicity than he was raising in Big Pharma contributions, so he changed sides. By 2001, even during the reign of president George W. Bush and his vicious trade representative, Robert Zoellick (now World Bank president), the WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights system was amended to permit generic drugs to be used in medical emergencies, such as AIDS. This was a huge victory for Africa, removing any rationale to continue to deny life-saving medicines to Africans. Then in 2003, with another dreadful WTO deal on the table in Cancun, and 30,000 protesters outside, once again the African leadership withdrew consensus, wrecking the plans of the US and Europe for further liberalization. These are the precedents required to cut through the three huge challenges we face in Copenhagen – and forever after in climate negotiations: northern countries should cut emissions by 2020 through an international agreement; they should not rely on carbon markets in making these cuts; and they should pay the ecological debt to victims of climate change. But the balance of forces will not permit victories on even one, much less all three. Recall that Africa is the worst-affected continent. According to UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change director R.K. Pachauri, “crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90% by 2100.” The ecological debt the North owes Africa alone is estimated at $67 billion/year (minimum) by 2020. On September 3, 2009, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi issued a strong threat from Addis Ababa: “If need be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threatens to be another rape of our continent.” Indeed, that is the main lesson from Seattle: by walking out - alongside civil society protesters - halting a bad deal in Copenhagen now paves the way for subsequent progress once our forces reassemble.