Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explicate how newly independent nations combined local and international resources to plan and build large engineering projects aimed at enhancing economic development. It discusses the key factors and issues related to the planning and building of the Akosombo Dam and related townships from 1962 to 1967. Design/methodology/approach: The assessment is based on the archival information from the Volta River Authority together with other archival government data and interview transcripts before, during and after the completion (from the 1950s to the 1960s) of the Volta River Project (VRP). Findings: The paper presents insights from the VRP in newly independent Ghana and demonstrates how multiple international firms combine with host country stakeholders to usher in one of the most important engineering projects in post-colonial Africa. It also highlights how poor bargaining power and weak integration of the project outcome to future development objectives, with negligence by succeeding political actors, could inhibit the full achievement of intended long-term project outcomes. Research limitations/implications: Most of the conclusions are drawn from a single project within one country and would need to be supported by additional multi-country research. The study also presents an opportunity to explore how lessons learnt could influence policymaking in new, large and complex infrastructure projects. Originality/value: The paper reviews antecedents, processes and outcomes of a major post-independence infrastructure project in a sub-Saharan African country.