AMERICAN POLICY confusion is badly hobbling African progress in the area of human rights and economic development. The administration and Congress have neither a uniform human-rights standard for Africa nor a serious commitment to Africa's economic progress.

When stricter economic sanctions are proposed against South Africa and new sanctions planned against Zaire, both notorious human-rights violators, liberals support them and conservatives oppose them. When similar measures are proposed against Ethiopia, conservatives say aye and liberals retreat.

Some members of Congress need to find the courage to advocate more aid for an African continent beset with famine, crushing poverty, falling commodity prices and debilitating debt -- even though this would mean less money for Israel and Egypt, which claim between them about half of the foriegn assistance pie.

But this realignment of foreign aid is opposed by too many on Capitol Hill, for reasons that are wrongheaded and morally untenable. Opposition is rooted in racial and ideological sectarianism, shored up by political cowardice of one stripe or another. Meanwhile, Africa's chances for political freedom and economic development are smothering under layers of American policy hypocrisy created by conservatives and liberals, Jews and gentiles, blacks and whites.

Let's take the cases in order:

South Africa. The white minority government remains steadfast in its commitment to retain power at any cost to the disenfranchised and cruelly repressed black majority. No brutality is considered too extreme. Yet our oil companies continue to supply and refine oil for the South African defense forces. Despite sanctions, American computers continue in service to apartheid-enforcing agencies. If precedents on conflict resolution instruct us meaningfully at all, we know that the Pretoria government will never negotiate with blacks toward a democratic outcome absent strong western economic pressure. Accordingly, we should ban all American trade and investment with South Africa and ask our allies in the UN Security Council to follow suit.

Ethiopia. Mengistu Haile Mariam's dictatorial regime in Ethopia has killed, tortured and forcibly displaced thousands.Although our involvement there has been on a much smaller scale than in South Africa, we can have a real impact on the Addis Ababa government by banning the import of Ethopian coffee. Conservatives will support such a ban, but only because Ethopia's regime is leftist. White liberals will be torn. Not wanting to break ranks with a black-led country, many blacks, I fear, will demur after making themselves believe that things aren't as bad as all that in Ethopia.

Zaire. President Mobutu Sese Seko has made himself one of the world's richest people by depositing a sizable share of Zaire's receipts in his own personal Swiss account. Installed by the CIA, he, too, has ruthlessly clung to power. Quite properly, Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Calif.) would strictly condition the future provision of an important pillar of Mobutu's underpinning -- American aid. Liberal Democrats and blacks will support him because Mobutu has tossed in his lot with South Africa and the Reagan administration in their efforts to overthrow the government of Angola. Predictably, Mobutu's thievery and documented cruelties notwithstanding, conservatives will fight for continued unconditional American support for his regime.

Were the adminintration and Congress genuinely committed to the propagation of democracy and economic well-being beyond our shores, we would be as united as a nation in imposing stiff sanctions on the three aforementioned countries as the administration and Congress will be in opposing any reallocation of foreign assistance from Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Pakistan to the needier nations of sub-Saharan Africa.

As the last to emerge from European colonial bondage, Africa's nations are not surprisingly the world's poorest. Yet we provide more to Pakistan alone than to all 45 countries of sub-Saharan Africa. The $5 billion we provide Israel and Egypt amount to 10 times the Africa allocation. More dramatically, each citizen of Israel, an industrialized nation, receives $750 in American aid, each sub-Saharan African, 96 cents.

Worse still, Africa the poorest region, is the only region of the world to suffer over the last three years, an absolute cut in percentage of total US foreign assistance, from 14 percent to 9 percent.

Earlier this year, in an unsuccessful effort to raise Africa's assistance from $274 million to $759 million, black members of Congress met with Jewish members and leaders to ask their assistance in finding the money somewhere in the foreign assistance budget. Promises were made, but no serious effort was ever undertaken. Nor did the Jewish leaders offer to seek even a small reallocation from the $3 billion set aside for Israel.

Trimming just 4 percent from accounts of the five top aid recipients would have amounted to more than the $274 million unsuccessfully sought in new and badly needed aid for Africa's development. There remains little if any sigificant support for such a measure.

For the few African countries whose people endure great repression and the very many whose people are working feverishly to develop their economies, American policy has been nothing short of a tragedy.

All of us have some measure of responsibility for this. For as we, in the making of American foreign policy, rally blindly and divisively around our own little ideological and racial poles, the Africa on which we are coming to depend more for strategic relations and materials is going to hell in a handbasket.

Randall Robinson is executive director of Trans Africa and a founder of the Free South Africa Movement.