Africans are changing rapidly, says host Lou Gossett Jr. of a six-part series called "The Africans" starting tonight at 8 on WDCA (Channel 20). That lesson is immediately delivered in the striking contrasts between the haves and have-nots.

In the final installment of the series, we go from the cocktail party of a Nairobi fashion designer to the desolate outpost of a family working for the Salvation Army in northern Kenya. Next we drop in on a Nigerian television producer directing a commercial praising the wonders of skin lotions and face creams, and subsequently zip to a family making a simple home in a squatter's camp outside Lusaka, Zambia.

These are dramatic differences. Too bad much of the rest of the series, running Monday through Friday, is not as imaginatively done. The first two installments cover familiar, even some hackneyed, ground in Rhodesia and South Africa.

Too often we have seen the scenarios in both countries: white Rhodesians pursuing rebel blacks, hurried activity in guerrilla camps, whites saying their respective countries are free oases for everyone, and the powerful distinction between economically secure white South Africans and pass-carrying, poverty-stricken blacks.

What's needed is a fresh look and that we don't get from this production of Australia's Nine Network in association with Time-Life Films. Even key government officials and guerrilla leaders are omitted from interviews in the Rhodesian and South African segments.

Frequently, long descriptions of suffering are repeated in several installments (this particularly happens with Soweto even though an entire segment is devoted to the settlement outside Johannesburg).

The series also loses its claim to comprehensiveness by ignoring most French-speaking Africa (Algeria is an exception) and the changing social and political situation in Angola and Mozambique.

On the plus side are excellent interviews of MIT political science professor Willard Johnson and Foreign Policy managing editor Sanford Ungar.

Overall, it's an adequate introduction to some of the basic political and cultural problems facing some of Africa. But it largely fails to examine fresh viewpoints.