Foreign Minister Murray McCully is on his way to Ethiopia to attend a ministerial meeting of the African Union, the first since New Zealand gained accreditation to the 54-strong organisation.

When he is there, Mr McCully will promote New Zealand's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2015-16, the election for which will take place in 2014.

Spain and Turkey are competing with New Zealand.

Improving relations with Africa is one of the Government's foreign affairs priorities.


New Zealand has only two diplomatic posts in the African continent, South Africa in the south and Egypt in the north.

Mr McCully said it was an important region, not just in the large votes they carry in international organisations.

"They are starting to show significant economic opportunities," he said last night. "In 10 years' time we'll be saying about economic opportunities in Africa what we are saying about India today and what we were saying about China 10 years ago."

He wouldn't say what countries he thought New Zealand might have on side for the Security Council bid.

"But we've got some good relationships in Africa, some of which have a basis on our last term on the Security Council [in 1993-94], places like Rwanda where they remember New Zealand's track record [very positively]."

New Zealand argued unsuccessfully for a UN response to the genocide in Rwanda.

Mr McCully will be accompanied by diplomat James Kember, New Zealand's new ambassador to the African Union who is Wellington-based but is expected to travel to Addis Ababa three or four times a year.

The model of Wellington-based ambassadors is one Mr McCully would like to see replicated as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prepares for restructuring.

"It is an efficient way to do business in some parts of the world."