An excited Liberian woman casts her presidential ballot in 2005

An excited Liberian woman casts her presidential ballot in 2005, during the country's first election since the end of its 14-year civil war. Women turned out in large numbers and were instrumental to the victory of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the continent's first democratically elected female head of state. Photo by Benjamin J. Spatz

Benjamin J. Spatz is an American Washington, DC-based Truman National Security Fellow whose work focuses on the relationships between conflict, displacement, and development. As a photographer, his work has been recognized by Pictures of the Year International and the National Press Photographers Association.

"Her radiant smile lit the humid room like a 1000-watt bulb as she placed her presidential ballot in the box. When my shutter fired, somebody shouted in Liberian patois, ‘White man snapping de old ma voting o!' She smiled wider.

"Even though she stood no more than four-and-a-half-feet tall, hardly taller than the ballot box itself, she seemed to be ten feet tall on November 8, 2005, as she put her own stamp on Liberia's history.

"She was voting for the first time in her life, and so was her country. This was Liberia's first truly free and fair election since freed American slaves had founded the nation in 1847. It was an emphatic turning point after fourteen years of war."