In a statement, Sierra Leone’s government said Mr Kabbah’s death was an “irreparable loss”.
Mr Kabbah was praised for his leadership during and after Sierra’s Leone’s decade-long civil war.
Tens of thousands died in the conflict, with many more maimed and raped.
The rebel Revolutionary United Front‘s trademark was to hack off the hands or feet of their victims.
The conflict officially ended in 2002 after foreign forces intervened to help defeat the rebels.
‘Peace and stability’
Mr Kabbah was first elected president in 1996, ending a decade of military rule. He was briefly ousted in a military coup the following year before being restored to power by a West African regional force.
He won a landslide victory in the 2002 elections and was praised for maintaining peace and establishing democratic institutions, although he was also criticised for failing to tackle poverty.
“If we are now enjoying peace and stability in Sierra Leone, there is no way President Kabbah could be dissociated from that,” government spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay said on Thursday.
Born in 1932, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah began his career in public service in 1959, rising to become the youngest permanent secretary in the country in the late 1960s.
He was the first former head of state convicted by an international court since the Nuremburg military tribunal of Nazis after World War II.