Making the African Scene

T i m e

April 23, 1979

Brown discussing irrigation and Ronstadt
taking photos in KenyaBrown discussing irrigation and Ronstadt
taking photos in KenyaWas he just another American innocent abroad? It certainly seemed so. "They live in that?" he questioned incredulously, as he squatted in front of a hut built from cow dung in northern Kenya. "Are they happy?" he asked, studying a group of Rendille tribesmen resting under a tree. He then wanted to know. "What do they do all day long?" Told that they tended cattle, he persisted: "Yes. But what do they do while they're tending cattle?" And later he wondered whether "these local people have a pagan religion." To such questions posed by California Governor Jerry Brown, his African hosts could only smile.

What fascinated reporters in Africa more than Brown's remarks, however, was his traveling companion: Rock Star Linda Ronstadt. For some time, the bachelor politician, 41, and the singer, nine years his junior, have been linked in gossip columns, and it was even rumored that they were going to the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to get married. The singer's arrival in Africa guaranteed enormous press coverage for Brown - but perhaps not entirely the kind he wanted. Reporters and photographers camped outside hotel rooms and mobbed the couple whenever they appeared. (Their hotel cottage in Kenya had two bedrooms, each with twin beds.) The situation became so unruly that the two celebrities took refuge in the home of U.S. Ambassador Wilbert John Le Melle.

When the press stalked the visitors to Naiobi's airport, Linda hid in the ladies' room. Cajoled Jerry from outside: "C'mon, Linda, just one picture of us, and they'll have what they want." She finally bolted for the plane and tumbled in with her head hidden in her arms. Said one of the singer's friends: "The press really freaks her out, and she feels terrible that she's ruining Jerry's trip."

What Brown hoped to accomplish with his safari remained unclear. As an open but undeclared candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, he may have wanted to acquire some credentials on international matters. He did meet with the leaders of Kenya and Liberia and was planning to go to Tanzania. The trip also gave Brown a chance to inspect environmental protection programs, something he passionately supports. At one visit to a United Nations project, he saw a map showing that the danger of arable land turning into desert is greater in California than in Kenya. He stuffed the map into his pocket and later remarked: "I had to come all the way to Africa in order to make the point that we can't go on living like this, using up our resources."

Linda RonstadtA further reason for the journey was given by Jacques Barzaghi, a Brown aide: "Jerry has some friends, Jesse Jackson and people like that, who urged him to come to Africa to see for himself and get a little insight into American blacks. You might say that it's also a vacation, except that Jerry does the same thing on vacation that he does in his Sacramento office."

The White House did not quite know what to make of Jerry's highly publicized travels with Linda. One senior Carter aide, who regards the Californian as a potential political threat, remarked: "I sense it's going to hurt him in a serious way. I can' t help but wonder if there isn't something self-destructive in him." Added Dudley Dudley, a leading New Hampshire liberal Democrat: "In political terms, this sort of thing is counterproductive. A lot of people are chuckling about [his trip with Ronstadt]."

But some experts disagree. Political Consultant David Garth feels such behavior no longer "raises eyebrows; even in the Midwest. If he were married, it would be a real problem. But they're both single." Adds Pollster George Gallup: "If you go back through the 40 years of our polling, these affairs and divorces don't seem to change opinion in any measurable way." Brown may have been counting on that.

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