Andy Young is right in saying that congressional restrictions on arms transfers do not present a serious problem for the United States in Africa. The serious problem is the whole African policy fashioned by Young and backed by President Carter with the special fervor of a belated convert to civil rights. The essence of the Carter-Young policy is deep commitment to three big African states that won independence from Britain. Carter himself has visited the most important of these, Nigeria. He has recieved at the White House and heaped lavish praise upon the leaders of the other two - Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

In line with their views and interests, the United States has taken a tough position against the white minority regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa. The South Africans have been told in rude terms to get moving on transition toward majority rule. On one occasion Vice President Mondale even intimated that they had to accept the practice of one man, one vote - a form of suicide for South Africa.

As to Rhodesia, the United States has not accepted the gradual transfer to majority rule this January, which the white Prime Minister, Ian Smith has worked out with moderate blacks. Instead, in deference to Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia, the United States has insisted that any settlement also include radical black leaders who have forces outside Rhodesia but little following within.

Implicit in this support was an American expectation the Nigerians, Zambians and Tanzanians would play a role in resisting communist penetration fo Africa. But it has not worked out tha tway at all.

For example, consider the case of Eithiopia. The Russians flew in massive supplies and several thousand Cuban troops. With their help, the Eithopians routed an effort by Somalia to detach from Addis Ababa the province of Ogaden. Now the Eithopians are moving to suppress a secessionist movement in Eritrea, and it is hard to believe the Cubans and Russians won't seize the occasion to fortify their positions in Addis Ababa.

Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia did not lift a finger to stay the Soviet-Cuban penetration of Eithopia. On the contrary, they have tended to justify the Russians-Cuban presence on the grounds that they were helping the Eithopians resist a border change. Since almost all African countries have vulnerable borders, resisting frontier change tends to be a cardinal African principle.

Only it didn't work out that waw either in the latest African flareup. The invasion of Zaire by a mixture of Angolan forces and Zairian rebels was aimed at detaching the copper-rich province of Shabe.

Once again, Nigeria, Zambia and Tanzania did nothing to stop the action. Why? Because they regard the leader of Zaire, Mobuto Sese Seko, as a corrupt dictator and white man's puppet.

They are not wrong. Gen. Mobuto is those things. Because he is more arms from the Umited States would not help him much. He needed the direct outside aid that he go from France and Belgium.

I happen, as a matter of principle, to be for repeal of narrow restrictions on the president's ability to deploy arms in an emergency. But I do not think Africa will be affected one wayor another. For the central fact is that U.S. public opinion strongly opposes any commitment of American troops in Africa.

That aversion is going to wax, not wane. There is now shaping up in Rhodesia a civil war that will pit the whites and moderate blacks supporting an internal solution against the radical blacks and their African alllies who will have the support of Russia.

The United States cannot imtervene on the side of the whites without losing all standing in Africa. Going against the moderate blacks and whites would touch off ugly racial scenes in this country.

As the Rhodesia example indicated, the United States is uniquely disqualified from lead role in Africa. The appropriate policy is general support for the principle of majority rule without any commitment on specifics. As to blocking the Russians, indirect methods are required. That means backing for the French, the Belgians and others prepared to intervene on the ground, and pressure where it will really do most good - namely, on Cuba.