Typically, insider mediators may be traditional elders, religious and spiritual leaders, women- and youth-group leaders, artists, educators, entrepreneurs, politicians, state officials and even security sector actors. As an insider to a specific conflict they draw on a wide range of resources embedded in that cultural context, for example tradition, religion, spirituality, secularism, pluralism or multiculturalism. There are also interesting examples of insider mediators whose credibility and respect go beyond national boundaries, often on account of their religious or ethnic identity (e.g. elders across African contexts or certain monks in Southeast Asia).
Insider mediators are able to situate themselves and operate along different tracks within a conflict context, bridging grassroots efforts and official diplomacy. While they largely operate through informal channels, some of them can influence policymaking by initiating and facilitating track 1.5 processes. Other insider mediators may solely mediate within one group, therefore paving the way for inter-group mediation.
Insider mediators are part of a collective, often forming a ‘network of networks’ . To ensure fair representation of interests for the different conflict parties they need to remain in close touch with the conflict dynamics and with ‘co-mediators’. Also, their potential role depends on how far they are trusted and respected by conflict stakeholders.
Insider Mediators may increase the inclusivity of peace processes by creating opportunities for non-state groups to enter into formal political processes. But in other contexts they themselves might constitute a traditional patriarchal system that may not be inclusive, especially of women and youth. There, it is important to find avenues which do not disrupt or degrade the system but slowly and persistently sensitise it of the added value and potential of inclusivity through examples and practices.
International actors sometimes tend to ‘instrumentalise’ and ‘projectise’ insider mediators instead of focusing on the mediation support needs articulated by the latter, which impedes their effectiveness and the progress they have made. Legal prohibitions put on the engagement/ interaction with armed non-state actors often prove to be a lost opportunity. In violent and volatile contexts, insider mediators are exposed to personal (security) risks. Finally, the lack of financial and organisation support for insider mediators also negatively impacts the efficacy and potential of insider mediators.