A freelance source developed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region provides exclusive video, smuggled out at a key moment in the monthslong conflict.

Through months of patient contacts, Nairobi-based senior producer Khaled Kazziha built trust with an Ethiopian freelancer who had promised AP first refusal on video and photos he made as events unfolded in the embattled Tigray region. That promise was fulfilled recently with images that included celebrations as Tigrayan forces retook the regional capital Mekele, prisoners of war in detention and an on-camera interview with Tigray's leader, among other rare scenes.

An airstrike on a crowded market the day after Ethiopia’s June election signalled that the conflict in Tigray had entered a new phase. As AP's crew tried in vain to board a flight from Addis Ababa to Tigray, events moved quickly. Ethiopia’s government announced a unilateral ceasefire, and their forces fled Tigray, allowing the region's former leaders, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, to return.

Internet, phone lines and transport links to Tigray were cut off, but Kazziha, who had recently returned from assignment in Tigray, knew that eventually he would get footage of the historic events — he just didn't know when. He had trained the freelancer in AP style and quality standards, and knew he was in Mekele.

Days went by, and a few journalists fortunate to be in Tigray smuggled out some reporting and images, but media outlets around the world had little imagery with which to tell the story.

Kazziha’s confidence didn't waver, and when he finally reestablished contact with his source — who doesn't want to be named for fear of incurring government ire — Kazziha was able to get a sense of what the man had, and its importance. On July 11, almost two weeks after the blockade of Tigray began, the freelancer’s footage and still images reached Addis Ababa via a complicated and arduous route. From there, the widest possible edit of his material would be sent on to Nairobi.

Having brokered the purchase of the footage, Kazziha worked tirelessly with assistance from colleagues in Addis Ababa to cut multiple newsroom-ready and customer-ready video pieces, liaising with print and photos colleagues for a powerful Only on AP package that has been widely used by key video clients globally, including scores of clients in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Kazziha’s customer-ready edit has over 52,000 hits on YouTube in just five days.

”This is a reminder that a journalist never knows whose help might prove critically useful in the future, and training and teaching people wherever one goes is a core skill of a field producer, especially in the world’s trouble spots. And always be thinking about Plans B, C and D and beyond, as nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” said Andy Drake, deputy director of newsgathering for Africa.

For exceptional collaboration and video production work that led to multiple world exclusives, Kazziha and the unnamed video freelancer share AP’s Best of the Week award.

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