President Museveni was all smiles as supporters adorned him ebisanja (dry banana leaves), a symbol of another term in office, during politically loaded events in Rakai last weekend.
It is not clear whether Museveni, who was in Rakai district to preside over two church functions, knew before hand that his visit would turn into the unofficial launch of his 2016 re-election bid. But his reaction was hardly negative. In fact, he was ecstatic as he received the gifts - ebisanja and a spear - even posing for photographs with the men that presented them.
This is the first time Museveni has been seen donning ebisanja since the last elections. The symbolism goes in some way to confirm that the President is considering going for an unprecedented 5th term in office when his current one expires in 2016, by which time he will have ruled for 30 years.
Ebisanja became a popular political symbol for the first in the run-up to the 2006 elections, as Museveni's supporters pushed for an amendment of the constitution to enable him seek a third term in office. In Rakai, Museveni had been invited by Bishop John Baptist Kaggwa, of Masaka diocese, to launch a series of development projects initiated by the Catholic Church in Manya village, Kifamba sub-county.
The projects, valued at over $4m, are supported by an Australian textiles organisation. Apart from launching the projects that include a healthcare complex, schools and farms, Museveni had planned to meet the donors who have turned Manya village into a 'town', but the politicians were also looking for an opportunity to launch their project.
Museveni, we have learnt from State House sources, had planned to meet the donors at State House Entebbe but was persuaded by Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba and Kakuuto MP, Mathias Kasamba, to travel to Rakai as it would be politically profitable for him. To strike a balance between the Catholic and Anglican churches, the politicians also persuaded him to visit St James Church of Uganda, Kifamba, built in 1927 by the late Festo Kayanja, father to Brig. Elly Kayanja.
But the Anglican Church authorities were ill-prepared to receive the President, prompting his handlers to ask why this visit was included in the programme. The insistent Kasamba explained that it was to help the President to sow politically for 2016.
"It's like okusiga (sowing) that our friends in Pentecostal churches talk about," the MP explained. "We have to help him start sowing because these people were the first to invite him and he has never responded. I am a Catholic and I can't take him the other side (Manya) without at least making a stop-over here."
In the end the function took place, although it was not very well attended, perhaps because of the short notice. President Museveni donated Shs 40m towards the roofing of a new church. It is also here that Kasamba and NRM supporters handed Museveni a garland of ebisanja (dry banana leaves) and a spear, asking him to contest again.
Museveni was ecstatic as he received the gifts and later posed for photographs with the men that handed him the presents. Later on at Manya, the politicians led the crowd into chants urging the President to seek re-election.
"Museveni oyee, 2016 akomewo, era abeewo nnyo," Mutagamba led the chanting, meaning, "hail Museveni, we want him back in 2016."
Some people in the crowd, notably former Kooki MP, Maj Mugumya Magulumaali, held banners while others donned yellow T-shirts with 5th term imprints and dry banana leaves wrapped around them. Museveni responded by flashing the NRM thumbs up sign. Mutagamba also introduced some NRM leaders spearheading the 5th term campaign in the district.
The team is led by the district NRM Women League chairperson, Hajjat Jalia Mukaaya, who told The Observer that they have already drawn up a campaign programme that they hope to present to Museveni for approval.
"We have asked him for an appointment such that we can discuss our programme, but before that the [NRM] Women League in the district is going to meet Jacqueline Mbabazi (National NRM Women League leader)," Mukaaya revealed.
She added that for now the village committees would be informally constituted to begin mobilising the electorate. To strengthen their campaign, Mutagamba requested the president to find a government placement for some key mobilisers in the district, like Magulumaali, who lost his parliamentary seat in the 2011 elections.
In his speech, Museveni thanked the people of Rakai for the support they have always given to him and the NRM. "In the previous elections when I used to get about 10 - 12% of the vote in northern Uganda, I was never bothered because your support would make up for the northern deficit," he told the gathering.
In the 2011 elections, Museveni won in northern Uganda for the first time.