Local mediation refers to efforts at the village, sub-regional or country level to help local actors develop mutually acceptable agreements that are endorsed by a locally credible authority. They may involve a mix of community leaders, local government structures and representatives, state security sector actors and non-state armed groups. Such agreements may include humanitarian pauses, ceasefires or comprehensive peace deals that address all aspects of the conflict (eg, compensation, justice mechanisms). Efforts to secure these agreements can be complemented by other confidence-building measures, such as prisoner swaps and demobilisation of armed groups. Local mediators are also able to draw on their own experience to understand the dynamics of their local contexts and, in many cases, can build trust with local stakeholders that is not easily available to outsiders.

In this article we examine the different ways that these local mediators can be organised and governed, and suggest a typology for thinking through their role in overall conflict management. We also explore how they can best complement track-1 peace processes, and how they can be linked to regional and international networks.

In order to be effective, these initiatives must ensure that they do not unwittingly undermine track-1 processes, or displace problems elsewhere. They must also make sure that they do not exclude specific groups in favour of others, or create a new power hierarchy that does not benefit communities most affected by conflict. Moreover, they must assess whether they have space to work with local leadership, and how such engagement can be facilitated.