‘I was with Kwame Nkrumah when he was overthrown’ – Chris Hesse recounts

On February, 24 1966, Ghana’s first coup, and what would be the first of many to rock the then newly independent Ghana, happened.

It’s been 56 years since the coup that ousted Ghana’s first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

The military uprising disrupted 9 years of a CPP government based on accusations of widespread corruption, tough times for the economy and stifling of free speech.

The takeover happened when the then President had travelled on an official trip to Hanoi, Vietnam. Mr. Chris Hesse was travelling with Dr. Nkrumah when news of his overthrow broke.

Mr. Hesse is 90 years old this year. He is the only person on that trip who is still alive.

“I used to share an office with Kwame Nkrumah. I would see him every day and would watch as he does his walk every day. He was a kind man. Throughout the time I knew him, he called me ‘my son’,” he said.

Hesse was only a 24-year-old when he left the then Gold Coast Film Unit and was seconded to the Office of the President.

He was one of the very first filmmakers to be produced from the unit which became the Ghana Film Industry Corporation.

As the Presidential Cinematographer, he was part of the delegation that made the journey to Hanoi, Vietnam.

“It was while on that journey, that the coup happened,” he says.

President Nkrumah had postponed that trip on three previous occasions. Dr. Nkrumah had been called upon to intervene in the security situation in Burma.

“It’s like Nkrumah knew that a coup was going to happen. I did not understand him. I did not understand his mood. It was after the coup had happened, when we were returning from Moscow, that I understood why that trip had to be postponed that many times,” he said.

Mr. Hesse said when news of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s overthrow got to them, the President himself was calm.

“On the night that we received the news, it was a sleepless night. I couldn’t sleep. There was confusion in the Ghana camp. By 4 in the morning, I was already awake and had come down to the lobby. Soon, President Nkrumah came down to ask for the whereabout of his Ministers.”

Hesse said many of the Ministers had insider information of the coup and seem to have been working with the plotters. Many, he says, fled the camp to different places including one who came to Ghana, apparently in cahoots with the people who had staged the coup, to be made the next President.

“When Nkrumah heard about him and what he had done, he laughed and said ‘he was organizing his own funeral’,” he said.

Nkrumah could not return to Ghana. Hesse said when they were on the last leg of their journey to Moscow, he got a better sense of what happened. According to him, all the remaining Ministers travelling with the President abandoned him at the business call section

“The President looked so lonely. I could see him from the economy class where I sat,” he said.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah stood up mid-flight, walked up to Hesse while he was going through his shot list on his camera.

He said; “What has happened in Ghana will continue. It will happen in many other African countries. It will continue until the whole of Africa goes down and out of the ashes, a new Africa will rise,”.

Unlike many of the people on that trip who were thrown into jail upon returning from that trip, Hesse went on to become one of Ghana’s best filmmakers of all time, working as a videographer for all Presidents who came after Nkrumah.

He headed the Ghana Film Industry Corporation which Nkrumah had established; Worked there for more than 30 years until he retired in the year 2000.

Dr. Nkrumah settled in Guinea where he eventually died in 1972.