Leapfrogging Into the Digital Era: Can the African Construction Industry Do It?

by Uboho Othman

Digital construction, also popularly known as construction 4.0, encompasses a range of technologies and processes that enable productivity, efficiency, and seamless collaboration throughout a project’s lifecycle. Building Information Modeling (BIM), robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), drones, virtual reality (VR), cloud computing, additive manufacturing, etc. are examples of the components of digital construction. These technologies offer vast potential for transforming traditional practices and overcoming challenges faced by the African construction industry

Understanding the Current Challenges in the African Construction Industry

My beloved father worked with the now-defunct Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and that was when I first learned about the term “Leapfrog”.

Leapfrogging occurs when a nation bypasses traditional stages of development to either jump directly to the latest technologies (stage-skipping) or explore an alternative path of technological development involving emerging technologies with new benefits and new opportunities (path-creating). (Yayboke et al., 2020)

NITEL was a monopoly telephone service provider in Nigeria until 1992, however, it faced numerous challenges in modernizing its infrastructure and expanding its services to meet the growing demand. The company was burdened with outdated technology, inefficient management practices, and a lack of investment in network upgrades. NITEL failed to effectively leapfrog and keep up with the rapidly evolving telecommunications industry.

Does this seem to be the case with the construction industry in Africa when compared with its global counterparts? I dare not say so, but it is worth giving some thought to it.

Leapfrogging in digital construction refers to bypassing traditional stages of development and adopting advanced technologies directly. Before discussing the leapfrogging potential, it is crucial to understand the challenges faced by the African construction industry.

Outdated Construction Methods

The African construction industry often relies on traditional construction methods and techniques, which usually involve manual labour-intensive processes. The absence of modern techniques hampers productivity and quality, hindering the industry’s progress.

Outdated Education Practices

Traditional educational models in many African countries fail to keep pace with the industry’s evolving needs. Outdated curricula, limited practical training, and a lack of emphasis on emerging technologies hamper skill development. Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure and insufficient resources for hands-on experience exacerbate the problem.

Infrastructure Deficits

African nations struggle with inadequate infrastructure, such as transportation networks, power grids, and communication systems. Limited access to reliable internet connectivity and electricity in some regions especially poses challenges to the widespread implementation of digital technologies. These deficits undermine the industry’s efficiency and limit its ability to adopt digital solutions.

Poor level of awareness

Although commendable efforts are being made by digital construction proponents – both individuals and organizations – many stakeholders in the construction industry still lack awareness of digital technologies and their potential benefits, especially on how to deploy these technologies to yield positive business outcomes.

Shortage of skilled labour

There is a dire shortage of skilled experts in digital construction technologies. The lack of professionals proficient in BIM, Robotics, 3D printing, Drones, and IoT hampers the industry’s ability to adopt and utilize these technologies to their full potential.

Cost Considerations

Initial investment costs for digital technologies are a significant barrier, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Africa. Investing in digital tools, software, and infrastructure can be expensive. While it promises efficiency, improved productivity, and innovation, the high costs associated with acquiring and implementing digital tools, software, and infrastructure are a barrier for many businesses.

Poor Regulatory Frameworks (if any)

In most African countries, government support is lacking. The absence of clear policies and regulations pertaining to digital construction inhibits its adoption.


Let us not play the ostrich here. There is also the issue of corruption plaguing our government parastatals and industries. “By embracing digital transformation, we are invariably embracing transparency; hence corrupt officials may directly or indirectly kick against it together with the issue of incomplete digital transformation projects in spite of large budget paddings for such projects”. (Orjiakor Nelson, 2020)

Poor Innovation Culture

Africa is also plagued with a lack of innovation in developing our own solutions due to a lack of support in Research and Design. This lack of digital solutions tailored to the African construction context primarily leads to over-reliance on finished or already-made digital transformation solutions, which ultimately lead to the high cost of investing in these technologies.

Cultural and Organizational Resistance

Change management and resistance to new technologies are common challenges faced by any industry on any continent. The construction sector in Africa clearly still encounters similar issues.

As outlined above, these are but a few of the challenges faced in the adoption of digital construction technologies in Africa. However, these challenges also present opportunities for leapfrogging into the digital construction era.

Strategies for Leapfrogging in Digital Construction

To overcome the challenges and successfully leapfrog in digital construction, the following strategies should be considered:

A. Fostering a culture of innovation

Encouraging a mindset of continuous improvement, experimentation, and innovation is vital to drive digital transformation and staying ahead in the digital construction landscape. Governments and organizations can create dedicated spaces where entrepreneurs, startups, and researchers can collaborate, experiment, and develop digital construction solutions.

B. Collaborative Approach

Stakeholders, including governments, construction companies, educational institutions, and technology providers, should collaborate to develop a comprehensive roadmap for digital construction implementation. Effective collaboration between stakeholders, including contractors, architects, engineers, and technology providers, is vital for successful digital transformation.

C. Developing Digital Skills

Investing in training programs to upskill the construction workforce in digital technologies is crucial. With the presence of the internet, there are a lot of training opportunities and materials made available by our industry counterparts in countries and continents that are more advanced as well as those developed by fellow Africans who have already taken independent steps into the digital future of the industry. Governments, educational institutions, and industry stakeholders should collaborate to provide training opportunities that promote digital literacy and equip workers with the skills required for a digital construction industry. Concerted efforts are needed to invest in digital education and training programs, promote collaboration between academia and industry, and create incentives for professionals to specialize in digital technology. Only then, can the African construction industry fully harness the power of digitalization and thrive in the modern era.

D. Foster partnerships

Foster partnerships and knowledge-sharing platforms between African countries and international organizations to learn from best practices and experiences in digital construction. Establishing partnerships and networks can promote knowledge sharing, foster innovation, and facilitate the adoption of digital solutions. Key means that have been serving efficiently in this way are industry conferences and summits, which bring together like-minds and personnel from different facets of the industry. Beyond these events, stakeholders should put into practice the knowledge shared and the adoption of these solutions.

E. Policy and Regulatory Reforms

Governments should enact policies and regulations that support the adoption of digital construction technologies. This includes streamlining procurement processes, creating incentives for technology adoption, and establishing standards and guidelines for digital practices. They should also encourage collaboration between governments, private companies, and international organizations to drive innovation and investment in digital construction.

F. Access to Financing

To facilitate the transition to digital construction, the government, financial institutions, and development agencies should provide accessible financing options to construction firms. This could include low-interest loans, grants, or venture capital investments specifically targeted at digital construction initiatives, tax breaks, grants, and other financial incentives to encourage businesses to invest in digital construction technologies.

G. Addressing Infrastructure Gaps

It is time to develop better digital infrastructure. Government should enhance internet connectivity and access across the continent to support the implementation of digital construction technologies, as well as power supply and other necessary infrastructures and amenities.

H. Case Studies and Success Stories

Highlighting successful examples of digital construction implementation in other regions can inspire African countries to replicate these approaches. Case studies from countries like Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States demonstrate the transformative power of digital technologies in the construction industry.


By adopting digital tools, processes, and technologies, African countries can leapfrog and bridge the technology gap with developed nations. While the sector contributes significantly to employment and economic growth, it faces several obstacles, such as poor project management, low productivity, and limited access to financing. To overcome these obstacles, African countries must invest in education, training, and awareness, leveraging technology to leapfrog into a more efficient, sustainable, and innovative future. Governments must also set the pace by establishing regulatory frameworks and standards that promote the adoption of digital construction practices and very importantly, allocate funding and provide financial incentives to encourage construction firms to invest in digital construction technologies.

By embracing innovative digital technologies and strategies, African countries can overcome traditional limitations and accelerate their development in the construction sector.


Orjiakor Nelson (2020). [LinkedIn comment]. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:linkedInArticle:7071230633968058368/

Yayboke, E., Crumpler, R., Carter, R. (2020, April 10). The Promise of Leapfrogging. Centre for Strategic and International Studies. https://www.csis.org/analysis/need-leapfrog-strategy

IMG: Afruibana