Mali has awarded four mining permits to Qatar Mining, the mines minister Boubou Cisse told Reuters, as the country seeks to boost exploration and following a meeting between Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and a visiting Qatari investment delegation in June.

Cisse explained, “Qatar Mining has opened its Mali entity. We will be granting them four mining concessions – greenfield projects – that they will develop in the next few years.”

The International Monetary Fund currently forecasts a steady decline from 2015 in gold output in Mali, Africa’s third-largest gold producer, as its existing mines expire. Pursuing new growth, Qatar Mining’s permits will cover four zones named Tabako, Mininko Nord, Netekoto and Linguekoto to the west and south of the country.

Lassana Guindo, a mines ministry official, further told Reuters, “Qatar Mining Mali Greenfield will represent the interests of Qatar in Mali and also the region, as they say they would like to make Mali their base for West Africa.”

Qatar Mining was established four years ago to invest in mining and metals, and though it has so far said little about its strategy, industry sources say it is focused on Africa and is also reviewing a mining opportunity in Burkina Faso.

In January, Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), a state-owned group and the largest company in the Middle East, also commenced iron ore exploration at Atomai in the northern Zouerate region of Mauritania, acting in partnership with Mauritania’s state mining interest.

This parallel West African tie up by Saudi Arabia was further consolidated when Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz announced his government’s dedication of $30m to the University of Nouakchott for the construction of a new faculty building for the legal and economics department.

Qatar was also involved in Mali in 2012 when it sent relief aid to thousands of displaced people in the north of the country after a Tuareg uprising, later hijacked by Islamist fighters, plunged the country into chaos before French military intervention in 2013 restored order.