This paper looks at Chinese construction projects in Angola, Nigeria and Ethiopia—the three countries that registered the highest cumulative value of construction projects completed by Chinese firms in sub-Saharan Africa between 1998 and 2019. This paper firstly shows that Chinese construction projects were an important catalyst for structural transformation. Beyond providing critical infrastructure for productive sector activities, the construction boom has induced domestic manufacturing of building materials and second-round demand multipliers. This paper secondly shows that the transformative potential of construction activities is not necessarily fully realised nor stable over time due to the nature of the emerging accumulation processes. In the case of Angola and to a lesser extent in Nigeria, the government failed to adequately support demand and supply structures through complementary industrial and redistributive policies. The Ethiopian case shows that even where there were extensive efforts to support supply capacity, distributional conflicts can derail accumulation processes.