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Scholarship Success Stories: Matthew Wannenburgh

By Aydn Parrott

“Interacting with influential policymakers and diplomats is an invaluable learning experience”

Matthew Wannenburgh, KAS-SAIIA scholar

Matthew Wannenburgh is a 23 year old South African studying towards a Master of Arts degree in Political Science at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

His political role model is Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer was the first Chancellor (founding father) of the Federal Republic of Germany. Adenauer, despite his age (73) at the start of his term, went on to become one of the greatest political icons of post-Nazi Germany—remaining in office until the age of 87.

“His solid work ethic and sharp political instinct established him as a formidable figure (“der Alte” [the Elder]). Adenauer was a champion of “individualism under the rule of law” and prioritised the protection of individual freedoms,” says Matthew.

After Adenauer’s release from a concentration camp, he was briefly restored as the Mayor of Cologne before being removed from office by the British (who assumed control of Cologne in 1945).

“What defines Adenauer’s career in my opinion,” Matthew says, “was that the height of his career only came after his initial fall from power—rising to become an architect of post-WWII German reunification and the face of denazification.”

Matthew says that the idea that Adenauer’s proverbial clock had stopped was the push he needed to find his purpose in a new Germany in dire need of guidance and reinvention. “Adenauer saw further than his contemporaries and was undaunted by his age and its implied fragility,” says Matthew. According to Matthew, “He was a superlative leader who continues to show us that we decide when we are in our prime.”

Little wonder then, that Matthew, who hopes to work as a diplomat or political analyst, feels at home as a Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) scholar. The scholarship, in partnership with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)  offers scholars support with academic study while offering practical research work experience at SAIIA.

Matthew says that in the next 20 years we can expect to see him working for a global international relations think tank, establishing himself as a diplomat, or lecturing in academic spaces. “My future is still malleable,” says Matthew.

He says the scholarship, “has introduced me to life-changing networks in both the public and private sectors.” Additionally it has, “served as a professional endorsement of my potential as a scholar and practitioner of my craft.”

Matthew points out what a confidence boost this is and says the scholarship “continues to expose me to situations designed to build my capacity and test my resilience as an IR/Politics graduate.” He says, “This experience has also shown me the multitude of paths accessible to International Relations graduates in the twenty-first century.”

According to Matthew, the scholarship ”exposes you to the world of work, as it actually is – unvarnished.” Matthew says, “ [the scholarship] covers a wide range of expenses and grants you a generous stipend, allowing you to focus squarely on your Master’s studies and your considerable contribution as a SAIIA research intern.”

According to Matthew, “the KAS-SAIIA Scholarship provides Master’s scholars with a strong support system and flexible mentorship.”

“Given that this scholarship-cum-internship is offered and facilitated by two prominent think tanks which hold top positions on their respective continents,” Matthew says, “the opportunities to meet with influential policymakers, statesmen, politicians, diplomats, academics/researchers, and activists are abundant.”

Matthew explains that one of SAIIA’s Programme Heads will be your primary mentor, with additional guidance from a nearby KAS branch official. According to Matthew these mentors are typically limited to SAIIA Programme Heads and potentially senior researchers who avail themselves for such a role.

“At the start of one’s internship, your mentor will ask you what you expect of them in this capacity and the type of assistance you require most,” Matthew explains. He says, “our mentors are often preoccupied with work relating to multiple projects commissioned by the United Nations, the European Union, the Southern African Development Community, and so on.”

Advising prospective KAS scholars, Matthew says that, given the limited availability of scholarships, it is important to plan accordingly. “One is free to approach their assigned mentor or email them edited drafts of one’s thesis chapter(s),” Matthew says, “or articles they wish to submit internally or externally for publication.”

Matthew’s mentor Alex Benkenstein, has a Master of Arts in International Studies (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University. He has been both a senior and head researcher on numerous project teams reporting to the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and other influential entities (internationally, regionally, and domestically).

His KAS mentor is Christiaan Endres, who functions as an oversight mechanism and general guide when Mr. Benkenstein is unavailable and is Matthew’s second port of call.

Matthew says, the scholarship emphasises content creation, honing the research skills and writing abilities of its participants. “The KAS-SAIIA Scholarship will make you a better researcher, free you from (most) financial woes, and familiarise you with the types of tasks and presentation standards expected of you by future employers,” says Matthew.

Aydn Parrott is a freelance writer and storyteller. He represents Africademics as a University Ambassador at Stellenbosch University and runs the ‘Power of Thought’ blog: https://powerofthoughtblog.wordpress.com/