JOHANNESBURG: Africans use Twitter in much the same way as other people around the world, with popular themes including entertainment, lifestyle, politics and football, but a recent report also highlights a growing cross-border interest in social issues.

Portland Communications, the PR firm, analysed 1.6 billion geo-located tweets and the top 5,000 hashtags used across Africa last year and found that people there were significantly more likely than those elsewhere to use the platform for political debate.

In the US or UK, for example, only around 2% of hashtags relate to political issues, while the figure for Africa was 10%, How We Made It In Africa reported.

This marked a change from previous iterations of Portland's How Africa Tweets study, according to Mark Flanagan, Portland's senior partner for content and digital strategy, who noted that Twitter had been "much more a space for social interaction and frivolous banter" but was now potentially offering a "grassroots" form of regional integration.

Two countries in particular stood out: Nigeria, where there was a presidential election, and South Africa, where a student protest over fees had gained traction.

The latter's #FeesMustFall hashtag resonated far beyond South Africa, however, with most comment actually coming from Egypt.

According to Allan Kamau, who leads Portland's Nairobi office, this sort of development "hints at the coming together of Africans across boundaries to comment on and discuss common issues.

"How to successfully engage with these emerging pan-African online communities represents a challenge for all brands and organisations seeking to build their presence in this space," he added.

Most tweets are still about entertainment, making up around 20% of hashtags, while English is the preferred language, accounting for 77% of hashtags.

Data sourced from How We Made It In Africa, Mail & Guardian; additional content by Warc staff