Local mediation is a conflict resolution process led by people from within a community to address a specific local dispute. It can be at the village, sub-regional or country level, and includes traditional elders, religious leaders, women’s groups, state officials, security sector actors, etc. It aims to help these local actors develop mutually acceptable agreements on a range of issues affecting the community.
Local mediators can be very effective in de-escalating violence and easing tension, particularly at the earliest stages of a conflict. Their strengths are the depth of their contextual knowledge and their extensive local networks. They are also often attuned to a conflict’s potential for escalation and well placed to intervene quickly to prevent violence.
The local nature of these initiatives also means that they can be more culturally sensitive and respectful than externally-led efforts. This can be important when dealing with conflict that crosses traditional legal and cultural boundaries, for example between modern formal law based on individual rights and customary laws in northern Kenya that may favour collective punishment for cattle rustling (Crossing the Rubicon, p. 185). Cultural considerations also shape methods of relationship building, communication styles and perceptions of what constitutes a fair process.
When planning a local mediation initiative it is important to assess the need and demand for such a service in the community. This can be done through a community survey, an examination of police and court statistics, and an assessment of the cost and benefits of resolving disputes locally rather than through litigation in the courts. It is also important to plan for capacity and sustainability of the initiative by conducting training, establishing a governing/advisory board and identifying funding sources.