The rains have fallen on most of those areas of Africa that were hardest hit by drought, but rain alone is not resolving the crisis that the people of Africa confront. The drought has only accelerated the pace of declining living standards in that part of the world, but the decline has been going on for more than a decade.

Today per-capita incomes in much of Africa are lower than they were 25 years ago. The continuing decline in living standards is generating social and political unrest in a region noteworthy for its political tensions, and, as such, is a major area of East-West confrontation.

From Cape Town to Khartoum, East and West have distinct foreign policy interests. In recent times the Western industrial nations have won considerable good will in Africa. The reason for this is that in Africa's hour of need it has been the West, not the Soviet bloc, that has sought to help with emergency aid, long-term economic assistance and sound economic policy advice.

But while the political stability of Africa is a matter of national self-interest for the United States, and indeed a factor in assessing global security, it is a goal that will not be easily reached. We have to face the grim realities of modern Africa, recognizing that the rains are doing no more than slowing the drop in living standards, not reversing this bitter trend. Only with major external support and with firm political resolve by the governments of Africa is it likely that per capita incomes in this region will stabilize by 1990. Only then will there be hope of some actual improvement in living standards in the final decade of this century.

The critical element in stabilizing the economic situation -- and here we are talking about nothing less than seeking to end chronic malnutrition for tens of millions of Africans, as well as reviving economic activity -- is the will of African leaders to come to grips with their domestic troubles and the things that cause those troubles. Leaders have to recognize that they must put policies into place that stimulate production, create jobs, enable farmers to grow more food and generate savings for investment. In many countries the decision to change policies is fraught with political risks -- risks that must be taken.

It is very much in our own self-interest to help the governments of Africa take those risks. Simply stated, this means we can help the governments reduce the risks by providing them with external support. This should not be "handouts," or money to build another vast congress hall, sports stadium or oversized airport. Africa has already got far too many "white elephant" projects.

The support we give must be money directly linked to policy reforms in the recipient countries and specifically earmarked for high-priority investments that will have high rates of return. In other words, the cash we provide must be tied to programs that will raise living standards. They must be carefully planned and monitored to make certain they are used for the designated purposes and not to make rich people richer.

It is interesting to note that one of the little-noticed acts of Congress before the last Christmas vacation was directly concerned with providing this sort of support. Congress approved an appropriation of $75 million as a U.S. contribution this year to a special financing facility for Africa managed by the World Bank that is designed to support just such meaningful policy changes. The United States was reluctant to join this venture a year ago when 21 countries endowed the special fund with $1.3 billion.

Congress has rightly recognized that if we want to tie aid to policy reform and ensure that aid is used in a leveraged manner in delicate political areas, then a good way of doing it is to push the cash through proven and effective multilateral channels such as the World Bank, rather than through bilateral vehicles such as USAID, which are often perceived to be influenced by foreign policy issues. Congress, foreseeing the Gramm- Rudman-Hollings bill, mandated that the administration transfer the $75 million contribution to the World Bank by Dec. 31, 1985. That the administration has not done this raises certain legal considerations. We can only encourage it to transfer these badly needed funds soon.

But this special facility for Africa, which now appears to be working and generating the stimulus for important policy reforms in a growing number of African nations, has a life span of just three years. It was a response to an emergency, and, wisely, most industrial governments are reluctant to create yet another international bureaucracy. The aim of most donors to the facility is that its work should be continued by the International Development Association, the concessional lending affiliate of the World Bank.

In January the 34 governments that provide funds to IDA started negotiations on the future funding of IDA. Last time around, these governments agreed upon $9 billion for three years to go through IDA to the very poorest countries in the world. The new agreement will be for the three years beginning July 1, 1987. The amount needed this time around will inevitably have to be greater if IDA is to assume the role of the African facility as well.

IDA represents an important instrument for African development strategies that directly serve U.S. interests. It is critical that the United States go to these negotiations in a spirit of leadership concerned with strengthening IDA and its fuure role in Africa in particular.

The fact is that the dramatic population growth in Africa, the mounting ecological pressures, the very heavy debts of most African countries and the murderous impact of the recent drought, are all being accompanied by an actual decline in long- term capital flows to the continent. This must be reversed if the governments of Africa are to come to grips with their awesome problems. U.S. leadership in ensuring such a reversal will not only be of great humanitarian importance but will also heavily influence long-term security interests for the West.