David Kavanamur's career spans continents, positions & publications, and is underscored by his commitment to explore and address the challenges that have beleaguered his native Papua New Guinea.
The destinies of ordinary men, not unlike those of young nations, can unfold in the most circuitous, wonderful and wretched ways. On a day in 1992, David Kavanamur a recent honours graduate and Teaching Fellow, was working late one evening in his office on Waigani Drive at the University of Papua New Guinea, when the phone rang. The call brought with it a fleeting offer for a remaining scholarship place to attend the University of Cambridge. Not sensing the urgency, a slightly befuddled and unprepared David, politely asked that the caller ring him in the morning. As he reflects many decades later, Professor Kavanamur candidly admits that at the time, “I didn’t realize how competitive it was to get to Cambridge”. By the next day the opportunity had passed him by. But David was not entirely disappointed, as he was uncertain of what he wanted to pursue academically. And quite apart from that, he had a lot on his mind. His first degree in Political Science and Public Administration had triggered a preoccupation with his country’s socio-economic challenges, which in the early 1990s were complex and considerable. He had become increasingly interested in deepening his understanding of concepts and ideas about development, an area that he had started to explore for his bachelor’s thesis Development: The Papua New Guinean Experience.
“I knew that I wanted to do something in development... because I felt that it was what the country needed”.
He just wasn’t sure how one went about pursuing it as a discipline. Shortly after the phone call with the University of Cambridge, he met up with a friend, who had recently returned from studying in the UK. His friend was quite confident in prescribing a way forward, because as he advised David, there was only one place to go if he wanted to pursue development studies. That was, he told him, to the oldest institute for development studies in the world and home to the British Library of Development Studies, two factors that resonated with the aspiring academic. Equipped and encouraged by this information, a determined David applied to the Commonwealth Academic Staff Scholarship and so began his journey to Library Road, and the Institute of Development Studies.
It was this minor detour, this slightly reconfigured change in direction that would trigger a series of remarkable coincidences and unexpected connections that would weave the lives and work of two men into the fabric of Papua New Guinea’s past and future development. For the young David Kavanamur, it was a first step that led to a distinguished career that would span several continents, positions and publications and ignite a lasting commitment to exploring and addressing the challenges that have beleaguered his native Papua New Guinea.
In the 1960s the Government of Australia faced a perplexing question about its closest neighbour and largest colony - what was the process for making the Territory of Papua and New Guinea self-governing? The Australian government as part of the transition to independence had sought help from the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) to advise on measures to be taken towards its economic development and political preparation for independence. That resulted in a report, The Economic Development of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea, which was published in 1965. The report described the territory as “an almost totally undeveloped area with an economy that is correspondingly primitive” (1965:1). The 1970s was a period of intellectual and political organization and ferment in the Melanesian country. In the first year of the decade, the University of Papua New Guinea had produced its first batch of graduates. There was a growing group of national leaders including Michael Somare who had formed the country’s first political party, the Papua and New Guinea Union (PANGU Pati) and in the same year Papua New Guinea’s third national elections had brought to office the territory’s first truly Papua New Guinean government led by Somare.
In 1972, the IBRD commissioned another report from the Overseas Development Institute at the University of East Anglia (UEA) headed by Professor Michael Faber (pictured to right was went on to become the Director of the Institute of Development Studies). The Faber Report as it became known, was in many ways a dramatic departure in tone and ethos from the previous report, it emphasized among other things; increased indigenous control of the economy and indigenisation of many forms of economic activity (including the public service); emphasis on ‘projects and policies that will directly increase the incomes of PNG nationals, and of the poorest sections amongst PNG nationals’, a greater emphasis on rural development, and a progressive reduction in dependence on aid. “Faber,” says David Kavanamur, “was able to capture the aspirations of emerging Papua New Guinean leaders who were yearning for political participation”. The Eight Point program also known as The Eight Aims, developed by Faber and his team, was more than just a policy document. It would have a lasting impact on the development of the country and its articulation of Papua New Guinea ambition as an independent nation. The plan became etched into the new country’s constitution, forming the preamble to the constitution: integral human development, equality and participation, national sovereignty and self-reliance, natural resources and environment and to achieve development through Papua New Guinean ways.
“I felt ready for the role because I had been trained by the master himself.”
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